For our May discussion, Rhobin Courtright has asked: does writing change the author? Do you think your writing has changed you in any significant way?
Yes, I think writing has changed me and I think writing does change me.
Growing up in 1950s Scotland meant a girl was expected to CONFORM. Whether that was to a working class, lower-middle-class, middle-class, upper middle-class or upper class ethic, was irrelevant.
It became clear as time passed that I was a source of great pride and huge embarrassment. Not everyone was able to share my burning desire to know. Many, many women, and most men, thought any man knew better. Facts often went unacknowledged.
And, because children do want to be loved and accepted, I spent years trying to mould myself into this cultural ideal. The rot, however, set in early. I was incapable of not arguing a point and was one half of a very successful debating team through senior school. I knew I would make a hopeless class teacher which was the acme of accepted ambition for me. I nonetheless applied for teacher training when I finished at Uni but fortunately a job elsewhere came up. I hung into a relationship for months after it was truly over because the bloke was the best husband material my mum had seen and she didn’t speak to me for days after it ended. My dad had more of a sense of a larger world out there.
It was when I was writing Mariah’s Marriage that I became stuck. I’d written a chapter in which Mariah took one path when I knew she should really have taken the other. I’d had to alter some parts of the narrative to accommodate this decision and it was keeping me awake.
Scottish magazine writer and writing tutor, Sheila Lewis, spoke to EWC on one occasion and said how often she saw MSS in which the central character was being frogmarched through a story, hand pinned up their back because of the plot. This statement hit me hard when I was struggling with Mariah’s behaviour. Of course she wouldn’t do X because it went against everything in her character I’d been building up. Mariah would do Y.
Light-bulb moment. How many things had I re-written the narrative for in order to accommodate what society expected? So writing has helped me to find more interesting paths without guilt.
What writing doesn’t do, in my opinion, is turn you into your central character. I know so many crime writers who are simply the loveliest folk.
On another level writing changes me because when I’ve got a plot running and am getting the words down, I am energised, and the rest of life falls into place. I do clean the bathroom and cook a pudding.
Once a story-teller, always a story-teller. The Mulgray twins now in their eighties prove this with the publication of their new novel: Suspicious Activities in Plain View Helen and Morna write their books together.
Below is this month’s list of other authors posting on our Round Robin topic. I hope you’ll join them. Also, if you are writing – has it changed you?
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-2jz
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobincourtright.com
Oh I can just see you as the little girl who knows better! And you were right and those naysayers were wrong.
And you are right: forcing a character to act out of character because of the author’s tyranny is a death sentence for the story.
Can you really, Bob? Must try to find the school pic of me with the hair held up, sort of, in its trademark fifties ribbon! Yes, character led fiction is it for me. Thanks for dropping by. Anne
Hi Anne, that’s such an interesting take on this topic. Thanks so much for sharing. I’d say I’ve had a similar experience through joining the RNA. In my ‘proper job’ I worked in manufacturing for many years – once where I was the only woman in the factory. Joining the RNA, where women are in the majority and their voices are never talked over, was a liberation. I really enjoyed your post.
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Hi Helena, I have worked in areas where women were customarily the clerical support and where my boss was asked, off-to-one-side, whether the wee lass could handle the subject matter. Articicial Insemination of cows, since you’re wondering. The man who asked was a lovely, lovely guy – and of an era. Onwards and upwards. Anne
What an interesting post, Anne. I found myself nodding in agreement. I too railed a bit against expectations and have no regrets. Writing hasn’t just changed me I reckon it has saved me. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it.
Hi Anne, I once saw a quote from AL Kennedy to the effect that if she didn’t write down all the stuff that appeared in her work and let the reader cope with it, she’d have to cope with it – in her head. After a gap in time, I’m paraphrasing, but I got her drift and understood it – perhaps even more now. Thanks for dropping in, Anne
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Good point about characters being frog marched to conform to a preconceived plot rather than letting them grow and change. As authors we need to keep that in mind for ourselves as well.
Hullo Skye, We do – and sometimes it can be challenging. Anne
Although not as intense, there were societal expectations when I was a child, too. I think, to some degree, I was sheltered enough from them that I managed to escape them to some extent. Perhaps it was from living out in the country with little else to do but climb trees, catch frogs/crawdads, play in the creek, etc. I did read, of course, but the great outdoors called, too. However, there were expected behaviors for girls to some extent, and I only followed some of them. I didn’t like that girls were supposed to act less intelligent and/or helpless that boys for them to like a girl.
I think it’s great that you were able to break out of those expectations and be true to you. It takes a great deal of courage to do that, especially when the pressure to be other than you are is so intense. Some people never do. I bet that’s why men didn’t want women reading “unsuitable” material in history. It expands the mind, makes people question instead of blindly follow, and, ultimately, think for themselves.
Hi Marci, I liked climbing trees, too, but they weren’t very tall ones. I agree that women’s reading has often been curtailed. I’m grateful to live now and not ‘then’. Thanks for dropping by. Anne
Enjoyed your post Anne! And while some sources claim a writer’s characters are just versions of themselves, like you, we may create them, but I think they become independent individuals.
Hi Rhobin, Lots of theorising goes on, doesn’t it? The First Novel is autobiographical… Certainly my first adult play was autobiographical and is now ruthlessly suppressed. I think that was always going to be part of the learning curve and then one goes on to discover what makes other types of personality. Great topic again. Thank you. Anne
HI Anne, yes, once you’ve created a character, you can’t force that character to act a way they don’t want to–they take on a life of their own in your head, and refuse to talk you through important scenes in their lives unless you allow them to be “themselves.” The morals and imperatives that prescribe the way women AND men live are changing, albeit very slowly. Let’s hope things keep progressing and improving, so that we all can become who we were meant to be–and our choice, not anyone else’s.
Hi Fiona, change is always the undercurrent to life. Thanks for dropping by, Anne
Most women of middle age or older railed against expectations. My mother’s favorite question was: “what will people think?” I didn’t always care. I like my somewhat headstrong heroines and if they make mistakes( and they do) they learn something. Like all of us. I can’ remember what century is was, but the English were very fond of saying poetry and prose held up a mirror to life. And that is true. And we learn from the mirror, and definitely from the light bulb moment.
Oh Judy, I recognise that question. Anne