Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Drawer Therapy

Winning a writing competition is scary. And if the winning story happens to be the first short story you have ever written (apart from a rather dubious effort in year nine), then it will is much worse. The first thing you think after, oh, gee, wow, I can't believe it, that's marvellous, is: now I have to write another story - and keep winning.

The trouble is stories (short or long) don't start out as winners. They come out as crappy half-baked words all written around the pin prick of an idea. Infact, they are so elusive that when you workshop them for the first time your writing group sit, eyes round, faces slack, until someone finally has the courage to mouth the fatal words: But ... I don't get it?

At this point you seriously consider changing writing groups. I mean, all that subtlety wasted. All those metaphors unappreciated. The times you have said nice things about their rather ordinary efforts ... But you don't got to a workshop for praise. As masochistic as it may sound, you go there to pull the story apart. Layer by layer, like an onion; to analyse what is working, and what is not. To be grilled, questioned and challenged, until you know exactly what the narrative is about.

If you are a clear sighted sort of person, clarity will come early in the process. If you are me, you will fumble about as if in a fog. You will sit up late drawing mind-maps. Jiggle things about and make minor changes. Treat favourite parts as if they were indelible. Foist the narrative on another, more discerning, writing group (yes, it is necesarry to have two). Worry it over and over. Test it out on your long-suffering family until, at last, you give up and shove the whole damned thing in a drawer.

The word drawer in this context, is a metaphor. Not a wooden box slides on runners into a dark space. It means stepping back. Getting on with something else for a while. Letting your subconscious do the work. This is called Drawer Therapy, by the way. It is an essential part of the writing process.

But does this therapy actually work? Or is it merely a soft option? A way of giving up by degrees? Well, I don't know (not truly, deeply irrevocably). But at Easter, I wrote a short story. I re-drafted it a number of times. I sensed it needed to start differently. But I couldn't see how to make the changes. After a few months in the drawer, I began to get an inkling. It was time to re-visit the story.

I spent a day faffing about with the start. Then it dawned on me, my character motivations were all wrong. Scrambled infact. They were diluting the story's final impact. Yes, of course. Why didn't I see that before? Once, I had the motivations worked out, I started re-arranging the time sequence. I then added a whole new scene. Finally, it was starting to make sense.

So, is the story finished now? Is it stronger? A winning story? When will I send it off? I don't know the answer to those questions. Writing is a complex, mysterious process. But I certainly didn't have solutions before I put the story in the drawer. So the therapy must have worked.

Helpdesk eng sub.

Friday, September 17, 2010


The greatest part of a writer's time is spent in reading in order to write. A man will turn over half a library to make a book.
Quotation of Samuel Johnson

I find this quote rather encouraging as I am currently in a non-word producing phase of writing my novel. In short, it is in the drawer. I am told this is what one must do when they reach a stalemate. When they have tried re-writing the same scene a dozen times, have sat staring blankly at the screen for hours on end, when they have risen to sit, head in hands, tears coursing down their cheeks, for too many mornings in a row.

I have an image in my mind of my father, sitting thus (although, without the tears). His creased brow resting in a pair of big warm hands, his navy flannel pyjamas all wrinkled with sleep. It was his morning posture. And now it is mine. An, oh my God, how am I going to face the day sort of pose. What am I going to do without my novel – the project that has consumed me body and soul for the last six years? Will I ever get back to it? What if I don't? Will my characters ever leave me alone?

I don't know the answer to those questions. For now they are in the drawer. But I am reading, more than I am writing. I am thinking, sleeping, laughing, praying and trusting – yearning for a still small voice. I am confident – at least, I think I am – that in time a pattern will emerge.