Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Our Not So Hidden Selves
(Cont. from yesterday)
The theme of the second workshop I attended was Our Hidden Selves. Author Jeremy Sheldon (above) started us off gently with an "I remember ..." freewriting exercise (where, as the ink got flowing, I found myself waist deep in muddy water in the convent fishpond while my the nuns and little kids stood gawping like goldfish at the sides.)
Then Jeremy put up a grid diagram on the whiteboard and marked the axes - high intensity/low intensity, positive/negative. We took turns to name an emotion (jealousy, anger, romantic longing, apathy ...) and talk about where we would situate it on the grid. This, of course, generated debate. And this lead Jeremy to make the point he'd been moving towards all along - no-one else pinpoints emotions in exactly the same way as you do and therefore when you write you need to argue your account of an emotion your way, and as precisely as you can.
We moved on did an exercise writing from the point of view of a child inhabiting a safe place - I wrote a piece about my place of safety - the English stockroom at school where I hid among books - a piece that actually belongs I think in a story I have been hovering on the brink of for some time ...
(Actually it was interesting how several of us in the group found an escape from unhappy situations in a place with books ... Or maybe it wasn't surprising given that writers are readers ...)
It was an emotionally demanding day with packets of tissues being passed around : we were writing from deep and dangerous places where the feelings were still raw.
In the afternoon as a warmer we freewrote about our names for a while (a great exercise this and I could have gone on and on).
Then we jumped into an exercise which took as a stating point the phrase "What I never said to you" ... and oh, I found myself in a very painful place where I still feel a whole mix of things ... hurt and anger. But as Jeremy said, unfortunately the things that are bad for us as human beings are good for us as writers.
Then we turned the pieces we had written around and jumped into fiction by putting ourselves in the shoes of the other person. I found it a tough thing to do ... but I want to come back to both of these exercises having opened a lot of unresolved issues up.
We talked about how short stories hinge on a moment of change, a moment of realisation that tips the balance ... or perhaps in a story that point is reached and nothing happens. And about how characters get what they need, not what they thought they wanted.
Again there was much good writing, a great deal of honesty, from the group as a whole. Jeremy was an excellent listener and able to feedback the strengths of our pieces of improvisation in a very useful way. There's something too about the energy that writing in a group creates ...