This week’s writing tip comes from a wonderful book of meditations for writers called WALKING ON ALLIGATIORS by Susan Shaughnessy. I love this book so much I’ve considered buying a new copy and then <gasp> cutting it apart so I could put all my favorite pages into a scrapbook with artsy stuff all around it and leave it on my desk for inspiration before work.

Each entry is just one page. There is a quote at the top of the page, a little story, and then a directive/meditation for the day. It was hard to pick just one but this one is speaking to me today. (page 47)

First the quote: (Items from the book are in italics. My response in regular type.)

“When I have a chance to write about a period of my life, an experience, and I can rework it into the life of my hero, then everything changes and I can no longer remember what happened in reality. That is why when I am not writing, I am suffering, because I remember too much of concrete life. I have to destroy my past in order to win my own freedom.” Andrei Bitov

Now some people might have issue with the idea of destroy their past but for some us held tightly in the grip of memories that won’t let go that is exactly what we have to do. We have to destroy the past in order to lessen its hold on us. I can stifle myself to the point of near-suffocation by holding onto things I should destroy.

Back to the book:

In many ways, the past is a writer’s capital. Your first glimpse of the sea, the first crack in your heart, the flowers that bloomed on a favorite aunt’s windowsill – these are uniquely yours.

Uniquely to have, and uniquely to share.

The pain is your past is also uniquely your capital. Perhaps it shines the brighter when the light hits it because you have left it so long undisturbed.

In working with your past, you set two processes in motion. One is the transmuting of experience into writing. 

The other is the transmuting of memory into understanding.

What will be left?

What will be left is what is most worth keeping.

I seem to have a handle on transmuting the experience into writing but I often struggle on transmuting the memory into understanding. I return to this page often to help me realize that perhaps I don’t have to do anything BUT write it out in order to understand. In everything in life I try too hard and in the trying too hard I often miss the meat of an experience. I continually mine the pain of my past (and that pain can be real or imagined – it doesn’t matter if it really happened, it only matters that I believe it really happened.) In the mining of the pain I am healed. But not always the first time.

Back to the book. The meditation for the day.

I’m going to take up some truths in my life today. I will pass the through the fire of my consciousness. Something will be saved forever. Something will be laid aside.

This balances it out for me in a way that I can most easily embrace. 

Something will be saved. 
Something will be let go.