By Kathryn Craft
Turning Whine Into Gold
The lament of the modern author, whose writing must now compete for purchase with every other book, from classics like the Iliad to the newest self-published odyssey, all of which will now be preserved digitally for all time: how do you add to that in any significant way?
The answer is to write the book that only you can write.
To uncover “your” material you must embrace the wonderful, formidable creation that is you. Here are some ways to accomplish that.
1. Journal. On the pages of your journal you are free to write about whatever crosses your mind. Note, over time, what tends to cross your mind. No one told you to write about this, it simply drifted to the surface. It is important to you. Look for common themes among your dreams, memories, and current concerns. You will learn something.
2. Make lists. This activity differs from journaling in that it is more focused. In her wonderful book The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life, choreographer Twyla Tharp says that when she choreographs a new piece she begins by walking into the studio, which is essentially the writer’s “blank page.” But while she is alone in the room, she is alone with her body, ambition, ideas, passions, needs, memories, goals, prejudices, distractions, and fears. Those could be great headings for lists. What does your body tell you? What are some of your favorite memories? We all have prejudices—what are yours?
3. Every now and then, let movies, shows, concerts and books surprise you. Don’t read about the experience at all; go with no expectations. My sons and I used to go to the cheap movie theater in town, no matter what was showing. We were constantly learning about what we liked, what we didn’t like, and why.
4. Put yourself in situations in which you fully expect to be uncomfortable. Much of the best writing is done through the perspective of an outsider—someone trying to figure out the keys to the kingdom, so to speak. Put yourself in that position afresh. Two years after my husband’s suicide, our new next-door neighbor killed himself. I felt compelled to support his young widow, but it was intimidating: in order to get to the funeral I had to cross through a line of bikers protecting the place. My neighbor had been one of their ranks. You could have picked me out in a heartbeat—I was the only woman without tattoos and a doo rag in the place. But it was a powerful, new experience. The bikes proceeded to the interment two-by-two, each biker wearing a black cloth pinned across the club insignia on their jackets—and I was surprised by my tears when my deceased neighbor’s bike took the lead, ridden by his best friend and wife. Witnessing it, I accessed a new little pocket of my humanity.
5. Try to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language. It’s interesting what you learn about your own cultural suppositions when trying to span an even trickier gap. I think here of the way my Danish niece and I invented a non-verbal game by taking hands in the stairwell and going up and down the stairs in different rhythms. Or of the way my stepdaughter’s Hungarian husband met me for the first time, sitting in our living room so straight and formal in his wedding suit and little cap—not on the comfy couch, but on the hard piano bench, honoring me as stepmother by struggling to prove, with his broken English, that he was equal to this new role—and the way he had to turn away to hide his tears after I shared my approval of their union.
What other methods have you used to learn more about yourself?
Your best contribution to the world’s growing body of literature is to write a story born of your soul.
Discover it. Own it. Write it.
Kathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, which was released on January 28 and has already gone back for a second printing, and The Twelfth Hour (due Spring 2015). Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she now serves on the board of the Philadelphia Writers Conference and as book club liaison for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing. She lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA. Although a member of The Liars Club, she swears that everything in this bio is true.