Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

Before my mother died, Esther Helfgott invited me to join her on a writing process blog tour.

 Two others, Amanda Pearson and Kath Lockett have agreed to join me.

Here's my response to the four questions, Esther raised.   Wade through if you will.

1. What are you working on?
At the moment I have two major projects in my sights.  The first, a book, I have been working on for the past twenty years.  Its first life came in the form of a memoir, which formed the basis of my time in a novel writing class in the early nineties.  In those days it was not the thing to write memoir unless you were a person of some note and so I tried to represent my writing as fiction. 

I never completed the initial memoir but have plucked from it whole chunks that then fitted well into essays I have written over the years in the fields of trauma writing, autobiography and psychoanalysis.  The memoir shifted then into a hybrid form: part essay, part memoir with an academic edge when I began my PhD on the topic, ‘Life writing and the desire for revenge’. 

Despite my PhD, I have neve considered myself an academic.  I want my writing to be accessible beyond the narrow confines of academia and so after I finished my thesis I began this second version of my book, which contrasts my life as a child with an experience I had within the psychoanalytic institute in Melbourne where I once undertook training.  After I completed this memoir I began the process of getting it published.  But after five rejections from mainstream publishers I have decided to seek further editorial help and advice.  Mary Cunnane has read the book and made suggestions about further improving it.

So this is my current aim to get this book as good as I can and eventually published. 

My second project, which I began in June when I was at Varuna on a weeklong writing retreat, is an essay that explores the nature of anorexia.  This work is still percolating in my mind.  I have memoir sections that I might well include but I am also reading more deeply through the analytical literature to add to my theoretical understanding of this state of mind and body, the state we call anorexia.

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I think of my work as a hybrid form.  It is not simply memoir, but incorporates elements of the essay form, in a struggle to sort out issues that trouble me and of the theoretical, but only with a lower case ‘t’.  I’m not interested in highbrow academia but I am interested in difficult ideas about what makes us tick. 

3. Why do you write what you do?
I write into my internal world when I find myself struggling to make sense of events both from the past and present.  Things that niggle at me: experiences and people who stick in my head and imagination and demand some sort of fleshing out.  I write because it helps me to escape the confines of emotional experiences that can be too much for me.

As soon as I begin to shape experience onto the page it loses some of its sting.  It’s as if the very effort of taking something from my mind, my memory and imagination shifts the event into something new.  Maybe it’s akin to what I’ve heard fiction writers describe as their ability to create whole new worlds and characters who will not so much bend to their will – as much of this is an unconscious process – but characters and events that come alive only through the writing process with this one writer. 

I write to get some sense of power over my life, a life in which I can sometimes feel strangely powerless, as a woman, as a mother, as a wife and as a therapist.  All these roles lend a certain authority to a person but they also constrain.  The writing allows me to transcend some of the boundaries of my day-to-day life.  To play around with my identity even as I seek always to stick to the truth as best I can – whatever the truth is. 

Even as I try at all times to be authentic there is something of the fictional about the process of writing non-fiction for me that becomes the thrill.  Whenever I put words down on a page I’m struck by how many choices I can make in how I position myself in relation to this writing.  I can emphasize the people involved, the setting or my own internal state.  Whatever I decide to emphasize then affects how a reader might interpret my writing. 

The element of the reader and the space between the writing and the reading also adds an unpredictable dimension, including an element of unpredictability, both thrilling and terrifying. What will my reader make of what I have written?  What sense will readers make of the story I tell? 

These things matter to me but they are not primary.  In the first place, I write for myself.  For the pleasure of putting words and spaces onto a page and creating something new for myself and maybe for others to read that will add to the volume of imaginative prompts available. This to me is what makes a writing life worth living.  It adds to the colour of my world.  It bursts open the constraints of the day to day.  That’s why I write what I write.

How does your writing process work?
I write Freefall following in the steps of the writer Barbara Turner Vesselago.  I write into my mind.  I start without any preconceived ideas of where I might go.  I see what comes up for me.  I rarely if ever plan.  Planning for me is a no-no.  I prefer to go into the unexpected.  I prefer to go into places when I have no idea of where I might end up.  I might tell myself that during the week I fiddle with a question that’s niggling at me or a scene that I want to explore, but that’s the extent of my planning.

It makes for unwieldy writing and a need for much shaping and shifting after the event, but initially I need to write without the so-called parachute.  I need to Freefall.  I try to write at least on weekends first thing in the morning during the working weeks.  On holidays, I try to write every day.  It is frustrating because I would enjoy more time to write but I have acclimatised to this life of catching words in the nooks and crannies and it seems to suit my messy nature. 

I write reams and reams of words, images, ideas and thoughts and then if for example I’m working on an essay, I try to pull these disparate pieces together.  I try to find a beginning and I build on that beginning, dipping back inside my compost bin of words until the essay begins to take shape.  It’s a long and slow process but it gives me pleasure.  I like to juxtapose disparate ideas together.  To see how these ideas might connect.  Parataxis they call it.  Chunks of information or ideas can sit together in uncomfortable union.  The gap of white space on the page between each chunk becomes the bridge that readers use to make connections over different themes. 

I am a messy writer.  I create chaos in the first instance and refuse structuring until late in the piece.  I have the greatest difficulty with structure because I prefer the image of the moment, which is why I might require more of my readers than some are prepared to give.  I might put too many disparate things together but other times they work. 

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