Wednesday, 15 April 2020 15:21

As We Shelter In Place, We Are All Writers

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 “My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.”—Patricia Highsmith

During this crisis, as you adjust to the confines of your physical space, tiny or expansive, as you juggle competing demands of work and family or struggle to keep yourself fed and protected, you have most surely also imagined things.

Perhaps you saw yourself in the future. You are attending a party, once again, this time outside with the fireflies, raising a glass to the end of the pandemic. Or maybe a darker scene, where you are working a new job you were forced to take and don’t enjoy. Or you are  in a hospital bed, struggling to breathe. Maybe the scene you envision is from the past,  you are a child, trying to ease the boredom of a school-free day by lying on the floor reading, a box fan blowing in your face, or endlessly whacking a tennis ball against the side of your house.

When we hope and when we worry, we create scenes in our minds, often unconsciously. Sometimes the scenes comprise three- act plays with detailed stage directions—mother enters stage left, scowl on her face, approaches the child on floor, says, “Why did you take our only fan?” More often, they are just fleeting moments—the sound of the wine glass clinking. The scenes we create can make our hearts pound or fill us with calm. And scenes are the building blocks of stories. 

Fledgling writers are often encouraged first and foremost to be observers, to pay attention to the tiniest nuances of what they witness and feel so that they can vividly manipulate and translate those experiences onto the page. This is wise advice, but how then do we account for the verisimilitude of recluses like Emily Dickinson and Shirley Jackson who seldom left their own homes? 

While writing is generally considered to be the act of putting down individual words by pen on paper or keyboard on screen  and stringing them into sentences and paragraphs and pages and chapters, being a writer is a process that begins—and occasionally even ends-- by simply imagining. And in this way, we are all writers. 

Ask yourself: Are you someone who gets inspiration primarily from the world around you or from your own musings and memories? 

 If the former, perhaps there is no better time than our current era of home confinement to develop a heightened consciousness of those scenes you are continuously creating. Can you adjust the plot to make you laugh? Bring along an eccentric character? Can you shift the tone from despair to longing or vice versa, if that feels right? 

 There are endless resources available for writers to prompt, inspire, and instruct, and virtual resources are multiplying. These are helpful but not essential. Here is a call, during these times of doubts, dreams, and worry, to realize that everything you truly need is all in your mind. 



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