Am I a writer?
Why do I write?
Am I just enamored with the idea of being a writer, or is this more than just a self-righteous obsession?
These were questions that had begun to plague me lately.
You see, most stuff that I have/had written stem from some personal experience or the other. Some of it also comes from having overheard stories. But everything had been a reproduction of some sort, and even though I am proud of some of it, they seem to be missing some essential ingredient. Maybe, some inherent truth of life.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure. I was just stumbling in the dark.
So, I started reading/watching interviews of writers online. Why do writers write? Why do great writers write? And, what makes them write the way they write? I began to study the art of writing in earnest.
Most of them (like Sarah Selecky, who came to give a talk at the English department at Queen’s,) spoke about writing as a journey with unknown destinations. Some mentioned a plan with a possibility for uncertainty.
But one thing was clear.
To be a great writer, I had to trust my characters. I had to let them take me somewhere. And, I had to be open to whatever/wherever this “somewhere” was.
I began to doubt myself. I had never actually experienced this. My characters didn’t talk back to me. They did what I told them. Or, they were just reproductions of me and – what I began to realize later – derivations, at best.
If I couldn’t tap into this great unconscious where magic happens, then I could just pack up and quit.
But like the serendipity of all magic and miracles, I had a breakthrough. One of my characters spoke to me, and a story emerged.
I was working on my final assignment for Carolyn Smart’s fiction workshop. It was supposed to be a flash fiction piece under 500 words. We could play around with it, but it had to sit within the word limit.
I didn’t know what I wanted to write on, or where I wanted to go with it.
For inspiration, I turned to one of Sharanya Manivannan’s published shorts. Since I have been an ardent fan and a writer-in-progress groupie of Manivannan’s work for a few years now, I was already familiar with her stories. A particular story stuck out in my memory and I pulled it up. Her “Stream of Unconsciousness” in Fictionaut. The first two lines of the piece stared at me:
In his dream, he was choking on an ice cube. He didn’t know what would happen first — if it would melt or he would die.
And, from those two lines, my first two lines emerged:
In his dream, he has a vagina. He doesn’t know what came first – the vagina, or his desire to have one.
These lines would have never come to me a year ago.
Smart’s fiction workshop/class at Queen’s had helped a lot to open me up. I had begun to write without fear. I even put forward my full blown queer bildungsroman short story for workshop in class. A story that starts with a sex scene. Yes, me. Me who couldn’t even write about sex without being self-conscious.
And, there they were now. Undeniable. Waiting for something to happen.
Then, I heard it. The voice. A person, talking. In my head. Leading me somewhere.
And then, a narrative emerged.
A narrative that had absolutely nothing to do with my own lived experience.
So, this is what it feels like, I said to myself once I was done. This is why people write.
And, this is why I want to write.
Check out this article, “The Case for Writing a Story before Knowing How it Ends,” by Andre Dubus III (author of Dirty Love and The House of Sand and Fog), to get an idea about unconscious writing.