While on holiday I met the main character (fictional) in the novel I’ve been working on for two years. She was furious. ‘You haven’t been listening!’ She shoved at the door I was trying to lock. To keep her out. The door (fictional) that she (fictional) knows much better than I (real?).
I thought I had been. Listening to her, that is. But I found with face-heating emotion (real) that instead of listening, I had been trying to protect her. But she doesn’t want protection, she wants to tell her story (even though she’s fictional), she wants to kick things around a bit. And now she’s perhaps become more real than I would have been able to handle until this point, and even then, not until the tears evaporated.
I (real?) was in the company of strangers. We had been together for 3 mornings and I was in tears. What set it off was a writing exercise that took us all morning and at the end of it two of us had flooded faces. Normally I would feel exposed and shamed. Instead these strangers went on with their business and let me feel the moment. I might need to put this image into words, and they understood this, so they let me feel it.
The exercise was designed to tap our life experience and push it out into fiction. Others were using characters they were creating on the spot, the two of us in tears were letting our character into our personal spaces. And it worked.
But what I want to talk about is not writing per se, or the book I’m working on, but rather working among others. Very specific others. Why to try and find groups that work for you in the same way this one did for me.
I feel I create best when I have time to think and silence to work in; and this is normally when I’m alone. To a large extent that’s true. However, what I found at this week-long writer’s conference was the power of support for creation, support from others who respect the time to think and silence to work in, and the alone-ness of it. Common attributes of writers.
A majority of the attendees of this conference bunked in the barracks of Fort Worden, near Port Townsend, Washington, USA. We shared facilities but each had a private bunkroom. As the sun rose, I would sneak into the kitchen/lounge where the sea and sky split the windows with a line of crystal light. Others might be up and in this area already. Others might be nestled on a lounge chair with a tablet purring in their lap; or asleep on a fold-out futon, resting from perhaps an event-filled night of pondering or perhaps a character in need of attention. Maybe the wine from the night before fueled them this far. We kept ourselves to ourselves, respecting the others’ spaces – no need for acknowledgement of the others’ existence, or of finding out what the others thought of the day before or what today might be. It was as if we were fictional characters not yet drawn out, cautious of thumping into another’s hallucinations.
I managed to remain all week in the fictional cellar I need to find each day before I can crawl into my story. The interactions where the left brain was needed during the conference were minimal – at the coffee urn outside the workshop area, or while dining – and others understood because they were pretty much in their own fictional areas. You’d see someone sitting at one of the 6-space picnic tables outside the common area and leave them be for they may be working, even if that work was simply going on in their unseen (as yet) head spaces.
I hadn’t had an extended time such as this with people so like me. It was seven days from dawn to dusk with other writers. What I learned is how fruitful this is, and it inspires me to continue to find opportunities like this from time to time. I believe the same is true for others in other disciplines –find a peopled-mental-space where you thrive from time to time, even if, like me, you’re quite comfortable with your own company. If you don’t feel this same thing in social media (fictional?), try different groups around campus. If there isn’t a group already, try and set one up. I met a student this past year who facilitates a knitting group. What else might there be potential for?