Contented Writer

December 6, 2009

Frank McCourt said, in the first chapter of Angela’s Ashes, that “the happy childhood is hardly worth your time.” Then he proceeded to tell the incredible story of his incredibly hard youth.

Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, suggests going back to Kindergarten and writing down every detail of every event I can remember, grade by grade, plus holidays. The very next example features a family gathering where half the adults are so drunk they can’t walk from one room to another. Flannery O’Connor backs her up, saying that there’s enough awful material in anyone’s childhood to pack several novels. Misery seems to be an excellent source.

Can a writer write anything good when everything in her life is coming up roses?

How important is discontent to the creative process? It’s been a motivator for me often enough, and I think it’s easier to make an emotional impact in writing when I feel strongly about something. I can remember sitting down to write a chapter, and discovering that I’d fallen out of love with someone. It completely derailed the story, because that unrequited love was the reason I started writing it. My motivation was gone, and so was the main character’s. Seriously, why didn’t she just go home already? The guy just wasn’t that important.

Perhaps that’s an argument for not writing characters too close to myself and people I know.

When I decided to try NaNo this year, I was far too happy to have an entire novel’s worth of angst about anything ready to write out. No life tragedies, no insoluble internal conflicts… I turned to No Plot? No Problem! and the Snowflake method, and came up with characters I like but don’t know very well, and a storyline I didn’t expect. Life derailed my plans once again, and (here in early December) I haven’t finished the novel. Even so, I’m optimistic about it.  Having guidelines and a goal have also been helpful in my past writing.

Maybe contentedness isn’t an insurmountable obstacle.