It was always going to be a challenge, and fascinating. That’s what I hoped, once the excitement of being chosen for the Australian Literature Review (AusLit) Sydney writing team eased off. It would be a great opportunity for learning a lot about the craft of writing – that’s what I thought.
Yesterday I awoke knowing I would write at least 3,000 words to submit to the team by the end of the day. I just had to – I’d already delayed, put it off, made several attempts and jettisoned them. Others in the team have already submitted; we can’t move on to phase two until all of us have presented the phase one piece. Talk about peer group pressure! Yet no one had uttered a harsh or critical word.
Now I can sit back, momentarily smug in the knowledge I’ve fulfilled my part of the bargain. But already I feel the pressure building again. I know my character, Anita, much better, know what a nasty piece of work she can be – so I have a slightly clearer sense of who I’ll have to spend many more thousand words with over the next couple of months. Oh dear. And I thought this character was going to be a woman endowed with quiet strength, someone who would be a pleasure to hang out with.
So how did I come to feel confident, yesterday morning, that I would be able to meet my self-imposed, team-enforced deadline? I was buoyed by the energy of Saturday’s day-long writing workshop facilitated by Joyce Kornblatt, in which we focused on interiority – accessing and writing from a quiet, deep, inner space of personal integrity.
I had arrived at the workshop emotionally burdened, feeling exhausted and uncharacteristically heavy in body, mind and spirit. I almost didn’t go, but knew I would benefit if I did. In a writing exercise after lunch, I chose to march right up to the monsters that were stalking me and write from their point of view. As I struggled to enter their scary space, I felt fear and despair dissolve and a deeper level of understanding and compassion begin to emerge. As my pain eased, I found I was able to write calmly and quietly with my own voice from a deep, honest perspective about the same scary stuff. In that safe, nurtured and nurturing workshop space, healing blossomed, not only for me but for most of us in the room. Probably for all of us.
That night I pondered how I could possibly bring this productive level of interiority to the collaborative piece I needed to write. The two concepts seemed to cancel each other out. The piece I was writing for the AusLit Sydney team would have to dovetail with material other team members had already written, as well as fitting into the character and plot plans we as a team have devised. So many requirements and constraints. How could I write from a deep inner space?
I took the optimistic morning energy as a positive sign and set about my supportive writing ritual. Turn on the heater in my office cave. Make coffee. Set up the laptop on my writing table. Appreciate the exquisite pink blossoms on the camellia outside my window. Adjust the chair. Tuck in the knee rug. Okay – no more procrastinating. Light the candle and drop into a still meditative space. Begin to type.
How surprising it was to feel that authentic inner space open up to meet the parameters set by this collaborative piece of writing. All day I felt calm, creative and unpressured, and the words flowed. My character, Anita, revealed many aspects of herself I’d not previously met or known about, behaving in devious ways that shocked me, as well as making me laugh at some of her strongly voiced opinions.
If I try to explain how it worked, I find myself slightly bewildered. Yet it’s clear that whatever writerly inner space I accessed during Saturday’s workshop has remained accessible, at least for now, and that by some mysterious process it is as readily applied in a ‘controlled’ situation as in free flow.
I’ve learned something very valuable. And I sense that continuing to practise interiority when writing will be the best way to remember the lesson.