The great and terrible thing about the time in which we live is that we have access to all kinds of information immediately. This past weekend I listened to a podcast called “From First Draft to Plot” with Alexander Chee which was great because he has so many ideas on how to develop character and plot, but it was also terrible because I had just turned in a submission to my writing group with whisper thin characters. I think I had an inkling it wasn’t quite right, but I was in a rush to turn in my submission. I had gotten some feedback from a poem and loved the experience of hearing how my writing was perceived and what I needed to do to fix my work. I was impatient.
This is a valuable lesson for me. I have not always been the most patient person, but this experience reminded me that being patient and taking your time with your craft reaps more satisfying rewards. This lesson was reinforced in a different way when I found more personal pleasure in exploring my characters rather than rushing to assumptions about who they are. Just like in any relationship you have to spend time with someone to really get to know them. I was brought into a new world by exploring one of my characters the other day. Chee had been taught the importance of writing all you can about a character; their past, their future, who influences them, and on and on. I started writing about this character’s parents and was lead down a path that required some research. His parents were farmers in the 1980’s. This may or may not be a part of American history in which you are familiar. Ironically, I grew up in Iowa and Illinois during this time. I can only blame my lack of knowledge on the fact that I was a ditsy teenager.
For a good part of my life I have lived in locations where farming has played a large role in the community. This exploration into this character’s past life has guided me to a topic where I am curious and possibly passionate. This is what drives creativity, better writing, and an alignment of what is truly in your heart.
This writing exercise has helped me recognize the financial and mental depression farmers were experiencing in the 1980’s. They abruptly lost their land and livelihoods which had been a part of their lives for generations. For the most part, it was just farmers who experienced this Depression in the 1980’s. In the 1930’s Depression, everyone was hurting and suffering together. I wonder what type of depression this will be.
Alexander Chee worked with Annie Dillard who wrote the book, Living by Fiction , wherein she describes the importance of literature and how it guides us to think more deeply about how the world is and prompts discussions on how the world should be. If I had not delved more deeply into this character, I might not have as much empathy for what happened to farmers in the 1980’s and the gumption to take action for those experiencing loss in the present. Taking time and having patience is its own reward; it is not in what appears to be the final product. Nothing is ever really finished when you write and the writing that is done is not always for the reader.