It’s been some time since I’ve written about writing (got distracted by giveaways and wanting to have and read ALL THE THINGS), so I thought I’d give it a (brief) go tonight. I’m just going with the flow of my thoughts here, so pardon me if the path of this post seems to be winding.
I wanted to start by talking a bit about my piece, “Stay.” I haven’t really written creative nonfiction since I first decided that I was a writer of some sort. I don’t know if I’ll ever write anymore CNF, though I have been encouraged to. This story was borne simply of inspiration. The day “Stay” happened, at that moment in the ending, I had an odd sensation of observing the event as if it was not happening to me. As I was going all meta on myself, I remember thinking that the climax of this little episode in my life felt very… narrative, for lack of a better word. (I think it may have been the irony of the exchange I had with my mom.) It wasn’t a life-changing revelation; it was simply a chapter of my life with my mother. So I sat down and pounded out my feelings into a word doc. And the first draft was done.
I edited “Stay” a bit, adding details here, and editing out unnecessary information there. One thing that has surprised me and my friends who’ve read it is that it’s so… short. If there’s one thing I have problems with, it’s writing short stories. Sure, I can stop at page 20, but to have only gone on for three pages? That was like a miracle. And the piece felt fine at three pages. I didn’t feel like I needed to pad it.
I guess the point I’d like to discuss is restraint. The things I had to keep from leaking out onto the story and ruining it were details that fleshed out my life with my mother. There is so much that didn’t make it into “Stay” that is part of the whole larger story, so many other stories behind the few sparse details I did give. But, this was about one day, one incident, and I had a theme to stick by. There was a point when I realized that even a five-word sentence was too much, that it painted a stroke in the picture of a color I did not want others to see. So I held back, and I am glad that I did. I can probably use that sentence to write another piece, if I so desire.
Fiction or not, I think it’s fine–no, I would even encourage–that everything be on the page in that rough or first draft. But there comes a time when one has to choose between what serves the mission of the story and what hinders it. It’s similar to what happens wth deleted scenes in movies. Sometimes there just isn’t room in the story that’s being told for everything to get in there. If one writes poetry, one must take into account in the editing process that the words serve several purposes, some of which include meaning, sound, and visual space. Even poems have the potential to evolve drastically over time.
Supporting the whole of any writing form should be a main priority. I think there should be as few instances of details or images or scenes calling attention to themselves going “ME! ME! ME!” as possible. I’m not saying that writing should be mundane or that it must be subtle–rather, I think the ability to hold back in the right places makes writing feel tight and purposeful and much more powerful when the punches do get thrown.
In a couple of workshops or critiques (I can’t remember clearly) last year there was discussed the notion that good writing involves some type of risk. I think narrative restraint is an exercise in the ability to channel one’s strength into one or a few focused risks rather than many.
Hm, this was not what I originally sat down to write. I like my metaphors, though. I hope this was helpful!