I realised today that birds almost always appear in my stories. Birds call, hop and peck, or even swoop past in the night (like the owl in my latest story). But I never plan it. I never think to myself, ‘O-ho, I might just stick a bird in here. Yes, perhaps a magpie.’ It’s not like that at all. The bird just appears.
Thinking about the birds got me pondering just how much I love writing (when I’m not hating it, that is). I love the fact that I sit down with only the vaguest idea what I’m going to write about, and then characters appear and do things, and even birds arrive and do birdlike things. It’s like a movie the way it all pans out. And once I’ve worked on a story for awhile, it becomes so real and true in my head, I almost believe it all actually happened (I don’t truly believe it; I’m not crazy. Or so I tell myself).
So I’m wondering if other writers have recurring creatures or objects? I don’t mean themes or topics, I mean the weird mouse that’s always in the corner or your characters forever eating cheese. What is your ‘bird’? I’d love to know.
I came across an article in Friday’s The Australian in which author Charlotte Wood shared the contents of an email she sent to a couple of close friends when she was writing her novel, The Natural Order of Things. She’d begun to lose faith in her project and wondered how it could possibly benefit the world. This is part of that email.
But I have bucked myself up a little bit, by writing a list of reasons to keep going. Here’s what I came up with. Reasons to write:
To make something beautiful. Beauty does not have to mean prettiness, but can emerge from the scope of one’s imagination, the precision of one’s words, the steadiness and honesty of one’s gaze.
To make something truthful. ‘Truth is beauty, beauty truth.’
To make use of what you have and who you are. Even a limited talent brings with it an obligation to explore it, develop it, exercise it, be grateful for it.
To make, at all. To create is to defy emptiness. It is generous, it affirms. To make is to add to the world, not subtract from it. It enlarges, does not diminish.
Because as Iris Murdoch said, paying attention is a moral act. To write truthfully is to honour the luck and the intricate detail of being alive.
I read this section intently and as I read it the words blurred with tears. I realised Charlotte’s words were a balm to my heart, because it is my secret fear that in writing stories I’m wasting time. Wasting the time of others and wasting my own time. Whiling away hours in fictitious worlds when I could be doing something concrete and helpful. Maybe having a medical degree makes this feeling more acute (even though I still work as a surgical assistant, it’s not the same level of ‘helping’ as being a GP). But I suspect a lot of writers have this same fear, at least until they write a bestseller and get hundreds of emails about how the book changed the correspondent’s life. 🙂
So to any writers out there who get doubts, feel uncertain, lose faith … you’re definitely not alone. And this post is for you.
I stumbled across this today – an award with a huge prize ($50,000 US) available to women authors with a short story, novel or screenplay that ‘gives an insight into the lives of women’. The deadline is June 8, so you have a little time (and the shortlist comes out June 22).
Got something you could submit? Here’s the link.