a word about/on/of/for/with/by finding my own voice

My worst fear is not rejection slips. My worst fear is that I will be published in a book that will turn out to be redundant and unnecessary and end its life in the 50 cent bin at an Esso on the #1 Hy-way in Saskatchewan (shudder). With the volume of books already published, how does an inexperienced writer hope to add anything new?

On her blog Borrowing Bones (doradueck.wordpress.com), Dora Dueck recently explored the relationship between reading great writers and writing. In response to my questions about how to remain generative rather than reactionary, Dueck interviewed Shirley Hershey Showalter, who is reading 100 memoirs before writing her own, on the topic of finding one’s own voice while listening to the chorus of writers who’ve gone before us.

As I read their conversation, I recalled two diverse quotes on originality. One is Janet Fitch’s wisdom to “avoid clichés.” And she doesn’t just mean the threadbare ones: “When you’re writing, anything you’ve ever heard or read before is a cliché.” Whatever happened to imitation being the sincerest form of flattery? Oh, sorry. You’ve probably heard that before. While I agree that sometimes the “tried and true” is more “tired and thirty,” aiming for originality seems like a ticket to madness. (A naked man juggling dead squirrels on the roof is unique, but without fitting any of our cultural categories, he says nothing.)

And then you have C.S. Lewis’ wisdom: “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

If I had to choose one, I’d say Lewis is the more necessary. But as an editor, I’d have to say he takes it too far in the other direction. Many people tell the truth. Badly. I suspect part of the problem is that they were unwilling to tell the whole truth. But the fact is, there are myriad ways to share facts, and many are not worth reading. Or at the least, not worth reading twice.

Returning to Dora Dueck’s blog, I was intrigued (as were others) by her image of the stream (borrowed from Willa Cather): “A woman writer stands in the stream of literary history, but lets it fall away to reveal the purer self that sings naturally in her own body, in her own voice.” At first this analogy left me with only cold, wet feet and more questions. How does one control what will wash away and what will not? If I do not yet recognize my own poetic voice, how do I know it will not erode or dissolve as soon as my toes hit the water? Then I found this:

In an essay on (about/of/for/with) his influences in Rhubarb, Rudy Wiebe”> begins with an etymology lesson. Influence is the preposition “in” plus the Latin “fluence” – to flow.

“Is Rhubarb asking: what, in a lifetime, has flowed in you,
Rudy Wiebe? Or is it “flowed into,” or “flowed through/
within/past/under/over/beside/ out of/against,” all those
powerful, essential prepositions which in English shapeshift
and control our meanings? Or is the question really:
what, with all this flowing somewhere in you, has remained behind to make
you the writer you continue trying to become? Tell us, make it up (down/out?)
as necessary.”

When I think of the literary stream flowing through me, not under or around me, rather than imagining it washing me from the outside, I imagine the stream becoming part of me, like the water I drink; what I love, remember, and cling to from other writers (like Wiebe and Dueck) – those “flowings in” will irrigate me, silt up my banks, colour my own flow with its algae and grasses. Because the stream flows in me, rather than me standing in it, my literary traditions and mentors cannot wash away my experiences and beliefs (trapped inside me) – these will make my voice my own.

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Mouse #9: Morning Perks

They say you should keep a pen and pad beside the bed, so when you wake in the middle of the night with a thought, you can write it down. Otherwise it will be lost by morning.

The problem is, the only thoughts I wake up with in the wee hours of the the morning are: I’ve left the cordless phone in the rain! Or: I threw out the receipt for those ugly pants! And the thought is never lost; the memory of running in the rain in my bathrobe to riffle through the garbage bins on the boulevard at 3:00am, swatting mosquitoes and hoping the people crazy enough to be outside at this hour notice how tough I look, is still very much with me in the morning. Not that these thoughts shouldn’t be written down. (This post would be 100 words shorter if I hadn’t.) As it turns out, one of my fictional characters shares my propensity for leaving things out at night. More words on a page somewhere.

But my best ideas come when I first wake up in the morning. I mean, wake up for good. So lately, resisting the urge to check email or start the laundry, I’ve been writing as soon as my coffee mug and I hit the La-Z-boy. Whether it’s 5:00am or 9:00, my inner editor is still too groggy to delete things on me. (She stays up way too late for her own good critiquing everything from her children’s ability to leave the bathroom dirtier than they entered it, to the bigotry against people with mental illness on crime dramas. Don’t get her started.)

The writer in me, it turns out, is a morning person. So while the critic’s a-snooze, this writer brews.

I’ve expired but don’t throw me out before I smell

Hi again!

The idea of 37 Mice was that I would discover 37 strategies to get my creative writing kicking during my 37th year of life. I’ve only written about 8/37 mice, and as of today, I’m no longer 37. But, I’m not going anywhere. I’m still discovering the little nibblers, and I have made progress in the past year:

* I’ve read new, original poems at 3 recent Speaking Crow poetry reading events.
* I’ve handed my 19-page fiction piece (the one I quoted and lamented the pace of in my very first post) to another writer for comments this month, and since hearing her say she loved it, in past couple days, I’ve drafted the remaining scenes. All I need to do is organize and flesh them out a bit, but the tough part is done! I have no doubt it will be ready to fly into the hands of the Prairie Fire writing contest judges by the fall.
* After thinking about it for years, I just (30 seconds ago) emailed a personal essay submission to Brain Child magazine.

So happy birthday to me from my meteorically munching mice!