What about your story makes you go gaga?

I love this description of how “writing creates you as you write it” by poet Reg Saner (from the March/April 2010 issue of The Writer’s Chronicle):

“[T]he interface between words and your sense of this world is a virtual place, and the locale where writing happens. Figuratively speaking, it’s an ecotone, the biologist’s name for a transitional boundary between diverse communities of life forms. It’s therefore also a zone where unexpectedly interesting things may happen….In essence, it’s a place where self-organizing, which is to say self-evolving, happens through interaction with the written word.”

This is a large part why we write. We don’t just write about our experiences and transitions; our writing is part of and contributes to our experiences and transitions. Writing becomes part of our “self-organizing” and “self-evolving.”

Saner suggests that we have different topics or places or issues of “interactive intensity.” For example, although he grew up in the Midwest, he rarely writes about his birthplace, because it doesn’t make him go “gaga.”

What makes you go gaga about the story you want to tell?

Two things make me go gaga about my novel:

Place. Unlike Saner, in recent years I have been persistently drawn back, in my thoughts and imagination, to where I spent the first eighteen years of my life, in rural South Dakota on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. For a long time I resisted the pull of place, thinking that too much has already been written about the area or readers won’t be interested. However, I have no choice about this setting. It has been chosen for me.

By wonderful coincidence, tomorrow I am taking a road trip from my Milwaukee home back to the farm where I grew up. I can hardly wait to soak in the sights and smells and sounds once more, not just for the sake of nostalgia, but as an initiation ceremony of sorts for my novel.

Family Diaries. Another recent project of mine has been transcribing diaries kept by my great aunt Harriet. Every day, from 1920 until 1957, she wrote about the weather, the work she and her husband did on their farm and ranch, the people she saw and talked to, and, occasionally, her feelings. As I slowly transfer her written hand into text files, and as I share with my family interesting items on a daily basis through Hattie’s Diaries. I know I need to bring Harriet’s life and story to the world somehow. I had begun a non-fiction book about her diaries, and even have submitted a proposal to a couple of presses and had a positive response from one, but I am  not “gaga” about the book.

Then, this past winter I read a review of Half Broke Horses, billed as a “True-Life Novel,” and I knew immediately what I needed to do: write about Harriet as a true-life fictional character. There is no question in my mind.

So, that is where I begin. The place and the diaries. They not only make me go gaga, they also are part of my self-organizing and self-evolving, a part of the person I am becoming.

If you are a writer or an artist or a creator of any kind, and what you are creating isn’t making you go gaga, if it’s not a place where interesting things are happening, ask if a different subject or place or idea is calling to you, one that you are drawn to as much as for your own self-organizing and self-evolving as anything else.

What about your story makes you go gaga?

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