Is anyone not trying to write a story?! Why we labour to write is hard to understand for those who do not feel this compulsion. Why ruin our leisure time with such whimsy? Why live for fantasy? Why bother when there’s so much rubbish on the market anyway, and your material will never see the light of day? Why create when the world will self-destruct in X number of years? And so the demons of lethargy call to us. And yet, most of us will have had a moment when we thought: that would make a good story – and further, I am the one to tell it.
I’ve been a card-carrying believer in stories all my life – nothing unusual there. It is so rewarding to find the story at the heart of so much cultural and social research – from literary criticism to psychoanalysis. For me, studying the Middle Ages elevated the power of story as a world view. For the medievals, the world was a book written by the ultimate author, God. Our place within it was as reader, glossator, explainer, commentator, and, in very exceptional circumstances, author. Stories to assess, even construct, reality. Metaphors to live by.
So when we say ‘I write’, we could mean the mere act of living, remembering and sharing ourselves. We all have our favourite words for ourselves, our preferred ways of telling certain episodes, and indeed our fantasies – ambitions – of where we see ourselves when we imagine something other than our present. These are all stories we write. But we can also of course mean the novels, short stories, emails, projects, greetings cards, blog posts, graffiti, to do lists, and reminders.
And it’s this kind of writing I’m celebrating. After six months of wrestling, and a handful of sessions with a writing group, I have an outline for the story I’ve been trying to tell for three or four years. Beginning, middle and end. Boom.
Next step? Well this programme from BBC Radio 4 – The Sins of Literature – certainly gave me some tasks. I’m particularly intrigued by Deborah Moggach’s practice of inhabiting her character for 3-4 days before she starts writing. This could be fun to try with a full time job! (*Imagines how obsessive, reclusive convicted sex-offender would go about my cycling commute and email responses.)
Have you ever tried to inhabit characters before writing them down? Any funny experiences, or good lessons learnt?