Two and a half months off of work, with pay, is a luxury that a lot of people did not (and continue to not) receive during the COVID-19 pandemic. At my day job, the shutdown came swiftly in mid-March. (For context, I work in a small branch of a public non-profit library system.) At first we thought we would be closed for two weeks. Then it became “indefinite.” I was only required to put in an hour or two of work from home each shift, be it watching a webinar or doing some kind of online engagement through Facebook with our patrons. With so little being required of me, you’d think that I would have gotten so much done during those two and half months. It’s not like I don’t have a backlog of Audio Editions to work through, or a schedule of Obscure Books From Childhood entries to get ahead on, or short stories to transcribe, or a bloody novel to finish writing.
The final round! This is the third installment of my DIY MFA Book Club responses, containing Prompts 10 and 11, plus 12 (which is more of a celebratory note than a prompt, but whatevs.) As I mentioned last time, there was a Prompt #9, but I skipped it because it depends on reading Gabriela Pereira‘s book DIY MFA. While I have posted answers to these prompts in DIY MFA’s Facebook group “Word Nerds Unite,” I’m also posting this last set of prompts and slightly more in-depth answers here on The Cat’s Cradle:
Welcome to the second installment of DIY MFA Book Club responses! This round contains Prompts 5-8. There was a Prompt #9 on January 26th, but because it depends on reading Gabriela Pereira‘s book DIY MFA (which I have not read) so I’m skipping that one. While I have posted answers to these prompts in DIY MFA’s Facebook group “Word Nerds Unite,” I’m also posting the second set of prompts and slightly more in-depth answers here on The Cat’s Cradle:
Being a hermit of the literary kind, I tend to not join things. But I’d enjoyed Gabriela Pereira’s panel “Rock Your Revisions” at the Writers Digest Annual Conference last August and joined the mailing the list for her online newsletter. So I got an email announcing the DIY MFA Book Club starting January 8th. I mulled it over for a while and decided, “Why not?” Get prompts to share stories about writing with other writers? Could be fun! I signed up and got the first prompt on the 8th, the second on January 10th, the third on January 12th, and the fourth on January 15th. While I have posted answers to these prompts in DIY MFA’s Facebook group “Word Nerds Unite,” I decided to include both the first set of prompts and slightly more in-depth answers here on The Cat’s Cradle:
“Terry [Pratchett] was many things, but he was not a jolly old elf. I think each of us tends to take something and use that as the place where you begin making your art. If you’re going to make good art, it’s likely that you’re going to go to the place where things are dark, and use that to shine light into your life and, if you’re doing it right, into other people’s lives as well. For Terry, it was always anger. There was a deep rage in him that allowed him to create. For me, it tends to be sorrow or loneliness or confusion.”
The pat answer that I’ve often seen given by writers, either in person or via books of advice, is that their art comes from joy or curiosity or wonder or passion. The emotions referenced are often positive or at least neutral. This seems to be the more socially acceptable answer. It’s a little more unusual, even slightly morbid, to hear someone say that their art, regardless of the tone of the end product, stems from a darker source. Usually we think that your emotional state should match the emotions evoked by your creation. I mean, really, would you have guessed that the hilarious absurdity of Discworld stemmed from a man’s rage? It certainly surprised me.
That surprise made me stop and reflect on what emotional core drives my own creativity. While all emotions are necessary to craft a convincing piece of fiction, I was curious to know what the wellspring consisted of. Did my writing come from joy, sorrow, anger, loneliness, despair, amusement, fear, cynicism, or some other emotional core? Was this consistent or did it vary from project to project?
I’ve turned the question over in my mind, and as I trace down the central emotional motivation for characters in my various works-in-progress, I think that the answer might be fear. The main characters in Ravens and Roses, All’s Fair, Astral Rain, Rinamathair, Jewel and the Skyrunners, Moon’s Fire/Moon’s Water… almost all of them are all driven by fear of something. For many of them this fear is about losing something or someone, and almost all of them are in denial about it. Some of them manifest this by being shy and adverse to risk while others become bold and abrasive in an attempt to hide what they see as a weakness. A good portion of their narrative journey is spent recognizing that fear, admitting it to themselves or to others, and then working to overcome it. Some succeed; others don’t, at least not completely.
I don’t generally share the same specific fears as my characters, but the sensation is the same. Even though I prefer to write while feeling happy or content rather than angry or depressed, the underlying motivation is fear. It’s a little weird, since I’ve never run into anything truly dangerous in my life so far. But the sensation, be it a small, niggling sense of unease or full-blown panic, is always there. And as I think about what Neil Gaiman said in these two articles, I think that might be my fuel, the part that gives the stories and characters I create that little extra push into realism. The soul-spark that makes them come alive. Because fear, like anger or loneliness, is a universal human emotion.