As seen on The Afterword, presented by the National Post
May 5, 2010
Toronto-based writer Sarah Selecky guest edits the Afterword this week. Selecky, a long-time writing instructor, has had her stories published in Geist Magazine, The Journey Prize Anthology and Prairie Fire, among others. Her new anthology of stories, This Cake is For The Party, will be published by Thomas Allen on May 8th.
Writing is like Driving Blindfolded
I always want to think about what my story is before I’ve written it. I want to know that it’s going to be good – I want to know that it’s worth writing. I have a quote
over my desk that I stare at about 100 times a day: “Of course you don’t know your story yet. You cannot know a story until it has been told.” I don’t even know
where I heard it, or who wrote it. It means everything to me. I hold the words in my mind like a prayer.
The critical part of my mind is so extroverted. I call her Frieda. Frieda is a loud, bossy, close-talker. She makes life difficult for the shy, writery part of my mind. This part is so quiet I haven’t even given her a name before now. Let’s call her Violet.
This is why my I think my first drafts are so hard to write: Frieda wants to do all the writing, and then the story is predictable, unsubtle, laced with cliches. When I do manage to write a story without knowing what it is first – in other words, when Frieda shuts up long enough to let Violet write something – then I make the mistake of giving it to Frieda to read over right away. Of course, it doesn’t make sense to Frieda yet. So Frieda loudly and concisely lets me know why it’s really bad writing.
When writers talk about writing being hard work, one of the things they’re talking about is how to stop listening to their Friedas. They’re talking about being present to what appears in their minds as it comes up. Of not knowing exactly what they’re writing about until they write it down. It is so difficult to do this. It’s like driving blindfolded. It takes a lot of faith.