Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Monday, July 16, 2007

Keeping the past in the past

There is nothing more inspiring for a writer than real life. Real life is where we draw our writing from as a result of experiences, emotions and insights. Today's news can inspire a poem, short story, novel or article.

But what happens tomorrow, when the inspiration fades? When we change who we are? When we grow and learn from our experiences -- and move on?

This is when things can get a little complicated. Of course, we writers know that not everything we write must be published or must go into print. We may feel that way at the time we write something, but if we are unable to get it into print, if there's really no audience or market for that particular life-inspired piece, is it worth it to keep plugging away? Even after 6 months have passed, a year has passed or even a decade?

On one hand, it is similar to "beating a dead horse." That whole experience, issue, emotion or news item has come and gone. There's really no point in "keeping it alive" by bringing out something new about it. Unless that something new actually offers something new.

And on another hand, trying to keep a story "alive" even after so long can be attributed to maintaining/clarifying the truth, meeting a personal need such as validation/closure, and preserving that idea all in the name of entertainment.

There are two pieces of my writing which could serve as examples here. One is an essay I wrote about a very difficult experience I had in 2005. At the time this happened, I was deeply depressed and shocked. The fact that I never met justice for this wrong done to me only added to my depression. I shopped the essay around and got a couple of bites. One such bite remains unresolved and when I later contacted the editor to see if there was still any interest, I had to ask myself: Is it still an experience worth getting into print? In other words, did I write this essay to help me heal my wounds, or did I write it to serve as a lesson I had to learn the hard way but to inspire others with that lesson? I am no longer as upset over this loss as I had been at the time. I have moved on, yes, despite the fact that a small sting exists over it ever happening. But I have accepted this experience. I made peace with it. It's no longer my mission to tell MY side of the story to the world or to get "the lesson" out there to the world.

But I still have to wonder....is it even valuable as a standalone form of entertainment for readers?

I have managed to answer this question with the other piece. Mainly, a whole concept. I am talking about my dream experiences with Jonathan. THAT story is online. The book I wrote, containing several journal entries and dream accounts, was destroyed. I only have one essay left -- one item acting as proof it ACTUALLY happened. But I wrote a novel based on that experience. Now I'm writing more. I even wrote a revised version of the novel (because the company who published it went bankrupt and copies of this book are scarce). And even as I try to do something with these manuscripts, even as I come up with new story ideas with Jonathan (et. al.) in them, I have often asked myself if I am indeed beating a dead horse. Even as someone helped me to understand why I POSSIBLY had those dreams, I am still writing stories with him in them. And I've written poems, too. A lot of my love poems were inspired by those dreams, and by that whole experience itself.

So do I think these stories can stand alone as a form of entertainment for readers? Without my feeling any kind of personal attachment to them? Yes, I do. These stories may all have little details in them which act as a reflection of a real-life event, but...they are not representative of what ACTUALLY happened. They are not first-person accounts. They actually contain embellished and "fluffed up" scenes. They are still fiction. I know what really happened. The person who helped me knows what really happened. And...I don't really need to share the FACTUAL story with the world. It's hard for me to talk about it these days, yes, but I'm not writing these stories to keep that experience "alive" or to continually prove to the world that it really happened.

They are just stories. I'm not as caught up by those experiences as I used to be. I have accepted this experience, too, and I have moved on from it. It's still an important part of my past, true, but it does not rule my emotions or the choices I make in my life as much as it used to. I have done what ALL writers do: I took a REAL experience and turned it into a story. A fictional story. I am no longer as emotionally attached to the experience itself; I'm just writing stories based on that experience.

Still, when it comes to nonfiction, maybe it's best I no longer have an emotional attachment to a piece an editor expresses interest in. Maybe it's best that I can now view this piece of writing from an objective point of view, because it no longer affects me as deeply as it did at the time of writing it. Maybe that emotional attachment is what made the piece good in the first place, but after the writing and the healing have come and gone, it won't influence whether or not I manage to get that piece into print.

So maybe it doesn't really matter if something I wrote 2 years ago or 10 years ago gets into print now. What matters is that there is still a need, still an audience, for it.



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