Today’s guest is Noel Robinson, a recent addition to Autobiographical Writing in the Napa Valley. Noel’s essay presents the cunundrum of incorporating craft into your authentic writer’s voice and the challenges of writing for yourself versus writing for an audience. Is writing worth it? Find out Noel’s conclusion. . . .
by Noel Robinson
I want to write, however I am always struggling with deadlines, arcs, and two pages, double-spaced limits. I can’t always stop myself from self-editing as I write. Too many adverbs, that’s a weak verb – use an active verb that describes fully the moment, change it up – your audience needs variety.
I accept the challenge of writing. It makes me feel alive. I am doing something important. I am having my voice documented if not heard. I hear it.
But! The problems with writing—when is a piece ready to be examined? Does there have to be an arc every time? Can I quit stressing and feeling pressured by getting my story out?
I want to express myself. I love being creative. Maybe I am in an advanced level class and need to wait, start simpler, and enter the writing world of critique when I have a backlog of pieces. I started writing in a journal seven months ago without any thought to taking a writing class. A book inspired me to explore the topic – this would be fun to do in retirement. I do not have a plethora of essays to draw on for revision. Everything is “square-one” fresh with me.
I love the class—the instructor is an editor that is devoted to her writers. This is gold. The writers are supportive of each other. This is a precious meld of people, strangers really, which comes together to support me and each other (can’t use that word again – I just used it in the previous sentence. Oh no, don’t use the word “just” it’s an empty word. I am sure I used the word “waste” in a previous paragraph…no – I don’t see that I did.)
I need gestalt applied; I use the rules and guidance, however it’s never enough for me. I need to know why I am using that rule and where that guidance is coming from. I have to process and walk around the entire project to know where I am.
I struggle with the “arc.” I know what it is (yet I feel there are many ways to approach it.) I have two weeks to write my piece that needs to be two pages, double-spaced. I feel the pressure to get it right, to nail the feelings and insights; to dig deep and express the nectar of truth. Yes, I am a perfectionist. I have been placed in a situation where I want to show I learned the craft and respond to all critique on my next piece. This is a stress to me and in the future may quell my appetite to write. I may go back to journaling and keep to myself.
I have experienced the journals, memoirs, and autobiographies of others and been deeply touched—responded to their voices with emotion, understanding, and growth. Writing is powerful. I am empowered by the writing of other authors, and I am in awe of the things I produce. I have things to say that surprise me. I have a plethora of ideas, thoughts, new truths (screw the repeated word.) Words have given me insights into my own life.
I am interested in continuing this venture.
I can tell a story. So what? Is that enough? I respond in the negative; everything has to have a purpose, a reason to exist—really? If I gain pleasure out of writing, that is good. If I never share it with others—that is good, too. However it feels selfish to deny others the things I enjoyed. (Catholic guilt!) I can tell the story out loud to friends, family, and acquaintances. I can write my thoughts in my journal. Reading my written words to others for the purpose of gaining skills in the craft of writing is terrifying. This is what I signed up for—I wrestle with why I did this to myself.
I am joyous when I write something that tells my story and acknowledges my experience. Why? I don’t have an answer. . . .
I change a piece of my writing, remove dialog and see how this changes the story. Oh, it helps to rein it in at two pages. Is this the only way to learn about the craft of writing: to do the assignment and worry about figuring out the arc or meaning later?
I need to stop arcing! Just write the story and let the reader find his or her own arc. That is valid, however I don’t get anything out of it. I want to be prompted to surprises, new insights; to me this is the joy and importance of writing. I guess I just answered my previous question.
Do I write a story, make it interesting? Leave out the feelings, emotions, relationships, analyzing…? Do I write like a scientist: present the facts in such a way that the reader can’t help but draw conclusions?
Is writing for the audience? Can it be for me? Why do I pressure myself by participating in a writing group? When I tell a story verbally, it is just the facts. The listener knows by my non-verbal cues, expressions, and tone of voice what the story means to me. They enjoy the stories I tell out loud. They “get” the nuances, absurdities, and comedy.
I take my writing a step further on purpose. I tell the reader how I feel, how I was changed, why this experience was important to me. Am I just drilling in a point that is obvious?
I have come close to quitting this class on a weekly basis. This is too challenging, my writing isn’t at the level of the class, and it is too hard. Then I read something or hear someone else’s story I think, Oh my, this is huge. Stories need to be shared with others no matter how hard or challenging or scary. I read a few sentences in a memoir recently and was crying—sobbing—at one point, at the description of the Father’s interactions with his daughter. I have had a different experience than this daughter and I notice the contrast. I feel the deprivation of being raised by my Father instead of by hers. It is important to me to recognize this difference. It is my experience and it was different from the writer. I needed to hear that there are differences in order to make connections to my own life story.