Why write? FOR THERAPY

by Ksenia Anske

Photo by Cathline Dickens

It was not me who said it, I heard it for the first time from Chuck Palahniuk, at his reading in Seattle. It struck me like lightning, because I realized that's exactly what I've been doing, writing for therapy. Chuck mentioned it as an answer to one of the reader's question about how to make it in this world as a writer, how to make money. And Chuck said something along the lines of, hey, when you write, you never know if it will be published or not, whether you will sell it or not, but you're spending your time on it. Write for therapy. Then, even if it won't get published, it will make you feel better. I can attest to that. It's true. I've been through a lot of shit (you can read about it here), and writing finally made me graduate from my shrink. Hell, it made my graduate from my ADD pills and anxieties and even my fear of darkness. Seriously, as a grown woman, I'd be afraid to walk into a dark room. No more. I noticed a pattern to how this works, how writing helps my mood. Here are a few stories, perhaps they will sway you in the direction of writing if you're still doubting yourself.

Whenever hurt, write and immediately release the pain. Two days ago some punks robbed our garage. My boyfriend's son was taking out garbage and left the garage unattended for a few minutes. We don't have much, but we did have golf clubs and motorcycle helmets and bikes. Needless to say, one of the bikes, the clubs and the helmets were gone. Glad the motorcycle wasn't touched. We ran after them, but they jumped in the car and were gone. I felt like someone punched me in the gut and left me to rot in the ditch. Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have noticed heavy tweeting around 10 minutes after it happened. Why? Because I was shedding the stress. I was writing out my feelings, and in that, getting rid of them. In about an hour they were gone. Today I feel sorry for those punks, because I know that the meager stuff they stole won't help their real problems. Do you think I could've done this several years ago? No fucking way. I would've suppressed the anger for weeks, carrying it inside me, letting it eat me alive. So this is why I write. For therapy.

Write and shed your old pain that became chronic. My own personal story is very unpleasant and gory, so I will spare you the details. In short, I have lost my mom for years and didn't even know if she was alive or not, didn't have her phone or address. I went back to Russia several years ago and have found her. The problem is, I quit my career to write, I'm broke and I can't bring her over here. Not yet. She's had a hard life and needs to be taken care of. I can't afford it yet because I'm only now starting to do what I always dreamed about doing. Writing. Whether or not I can make money at this, remains to be seen. So, daily, I'm in pain. I miss her. I want to share my time with her while I can. But I no longer suffer as much, because I write about my pain in my book, and every day I shed a little more of it, and I becomes a little lighter. I no longer need to go to therapy, I no longer have long bouts of crying after calling her and listening to her horror stories. I transform it into writing, and it helps. Oh, it helps like magic. Seriously. If you have some hidden old pain in you, it's time you let it go. Life is too short, and it's not worth being bent down by pain. Write.

Live your dream the way you want it, right now. All of us have unfulfilled wishes, whatever they might be. To travel around the world, buy a personal jet and fly to Paris for dinner, go to that awesome concert of that awesome band or learn how to dive. You name it. Whatever your dream is, life is always short on giving you everything you want. So here is a way to have it all. Put it n your story, in your book, and experience it. It's almost like doing the real thing, and it will make you so happy, as if you're actually doing it. Like, for example, I have a taste for expensive gadgetry, partly because I studied design, but it goes deeper. I grew up watching my mom design clothes (yeah, she's one of those starving artists who creates amazing things but doesn't know how to sell them). She taught me how to see beauty in things. Whenever I go to a store to buy, say, a new watch, the one I like always ends up the most expensive. I mean, I don't even go to stores anymore, because there is no point, I can't afford what I like. Thus, cleverly, the antagonist in my book is wearing an Officine Panerai watch. There, I have my dream. Legitimately, I spent hours researching the thing and got to describe it in detail. Ah, it's almost as if I had it. You can do the same, live your dream, now. Write.

Once you start writing for therapy, once you truly start writing for yourself, for your own inner true self, expressing honestly how you feel, a curious thing happens. Others notice. You know why? Because they can relate. Because they feel the same. We all do. We're all trying to make sense of our existence and hold each other's hands while we're at it. So, there, write. Feel better yourself and even make this world a little better. Book by book, maybe we'll manage to turn it around, eh? What do you think?

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Your story is right THE FIRST TIME

by Ksenia Anske

Photo by Brooke Shaden

This might sound like a paradox and a far fetched idea, considering common knowledge about the amount of rewrites every author has to go through to make final novel readable. Until last week, I was under the impression that true story comes out in rewrites. I felt like I have a vague idea where I'm going and that vague idea is improving with every Draft. What happened last week threw me off and made me rethink this. I started noticing that in Draft 5 I'd edit a sentence, then write a new one, and then discover that the new sentence is EXACTLY the same one I have written before, in earlier versions, as early as Draft 1. That felt trippy. It also felt like I came full circle, back to the original points that I've lost or dismissed in Draft 2 out of fear, in Draft 3 out of an urge to cut everything I could cut, and in Draft 4 out of perfection. Here is what I think this means.

Your subconscious knows better. The very first time you sit down to start writing, the first time you type up that sentence that starts your new novel, in Draft 1, it usually comes from a scene in your head that persistently wanted to get out. Before you get scared, before any thinking happens, it's pure emotion. And it's always right, it's why you want to write it down and share it with the world. But somewhere along the process all of our doubts start shadowing it, putting it in the corner, and then make us lose it completely. I think maybe that's the cause for writer's block - when we feel like the story is lost, that's when we don't know what to write about. This is just a theory, so feel free to disagree with me in the comments, but it feels right at this moment. Moreover, all of a sudden what Stephen King said in his On Writing made sense. He said that a story is like a fossil found underground, and all you do as a writer is gradually uncover it. So that first sentence, or those sentences that I would write again and again are points of anchor for my story that were always there, I just managed to lose them and find them again in the process.

Your story is a small thing, with big details around it. This is something that I have read about Fight Club and how Chuck Palahniuk, one of my favorite authors, came up with the idea. It started out as a short 7-page story published in the compilation Pursuit of Happiness, and only later it became Chapter 6 in the completed novel. The idea came to him after returning from a camping trip all bruised and being astounded as to why none of his coworkers asked him what happened. They all avoided it. Bingo. Remember what Chapter 6 is about? It's about the main character's boss not letting him to present at work because he's got a black eye. That's exactly what Chuck experienced when he showed up at work bruised. Emotion is the same, but scenario is very different. I've noticed the same stuff happen in my writing. Beginning of my Chapter 7 is the same as the very first idea I jotted down for my story way back in 2008. It repeated itself again in another attempt in 2010, then in Draft 1 it migrated to Chapter 4, and now finally it's back in Chapter 7 of Draft 5. How I didn't see this before, I don't know. I can only attribute my blindness to the fact that I'm writing a novel for the first time and am, of course, doubting EVERYTHING about it.

Your story is an emotional being. Every story is really a few characters being thrown into a situation and then dealing with it. Everything about it is emotional, because if it's not emotional, if it's pure facts, why read it? We read newspapers for facts. We read stories for drama. And, like every emotion, the first time we feel it, it's right. Before our brain kicks in and starts trying to make sense of it. So, no matter how crazy your first attempt sounds, it's the right one. Consider this. I don't know if you read Malcolm Gladwell, I do and love every single book of his. In particular, Blink. There he narrates a story of museum specialists who were called upon to identify an ancient statue, to confirm its authenticity. Every single one of them had an iffy feeling for the first few seconds they saw it, but then when they proceeded according to their established process, everything seemed to be legit. Needless to say, the statue was a fake, sorry to spoil it for you. Read the book for yourself, it's awesome. The point I'm trying to make is, all of those people FELT something before their brain kicked in. Evolutionary, we have been wired to feel and trust our intuition, to survive, to detect things and act quickly. Somehow along with being civilized, we lost this hunter-like ability and don't trust our gut as much anymore, yet we should. I think that's why the first time you write your story down, it's right. But it's hard to believe this, of course.

Having said all of this, I still wonder where this idea will take me. I suppose I'll see unravel in my second novel, trusting myself more second time around. But somehow in my gut I knew my story was right from that first moment I jotted down the first line. Then for 4 years I proceeded doubting myself to finally return back to it full circle. Fascinating. Did any of you have similar experiences? I'd love to hear in the comments. Please, please, please, with a cherry on top! So I know I'm not insane. 

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Don't write anything original, STEAL IT!

by Ksenia Anske

Photo stolen from amazing Kyle Thompson (I'm kidding, he gave me permission to use his pics on my blog).

Every day, after I'm done writing, I read. And every next day, WHILE writing, I usually find myself using a word or an allegory or an exclamation from the book I read the day before. It's never exact yet always reminiscent of what somebody else said. I feel like a thief, but when I reread what I wrote, it sounds original. How is that possible? Let me illustrate with some stolen quotes here:

"Bad artists copy. Good artists steal." Pablo Picasso said this. I don't know exactly he meant while saying it, but here is what it means to me. There are layers to any work of art, be it a painting or a book. What an average person sees, is on the surface. What another artist sees, is the underground structure that supports what's above. Hence, if you simply take what you see, its copying, and usually any reader will detect it right away when reading your stuff (or, what you CLAIM is yours but really isn't). On the contrary, if you yank out the very structure from underneath, nobody will see it in your finished work, because you'll dress it up with new decorations and pass it over as your own. For example, I read in Stephen King's Wizard and Glass yesterday a reference to a sound being an auditory version "of biting into a lemon." It struck me as powerful, and today I used a similar allegory in my own writing, except I linked it to an auditory version "of mixing different colors of paint into one ghastly brown mess." See, I didn't copy, but I stole!

"Copy from one, it's plagiarism; copy from two, it's research." This one is from American playwright Wilson Mizner. And I see being true every day. Again, lots of reading is to blame (I blogged on this subject before). Everything has been already said, of course, the difference is, how it's been said. I tend to notice patterns while reading. Patterns to descriptions, dialogue, setting, you name it. They're like beads being strung onto some idea-making thread in my head. At some point, it saturates enough and spills into my own writing, yet it looks like it came from me and me alone. For example, after reading J.K. Rowling's new book The Casual Vacancy, I suddenly started adding "Well, ..." and "..., all right." and "Are you saying, ..." and "And here you thought, ..." and "Do me a favor, ..." and "..., anyway." I picked up her pattern and my dialogue started sounding more natural! Stealing, *cough*, researching again.

"It's not where you take things from - it's where you take them to." Well said, Jean-Luc Godard, well said. What I discovered is any writing consists from essentially the same elements, even the same story points, even many of the same words and beginnings and endings and plot lines. It's how you mix them all together as an author what makes a difference. It's like wit music, there are only 7 notes, yet a million possible combinations (musicians, please don't kill me if my math is wrong, the last time I played a piano was in 6th grade). So, when you take a piece of somebody else's brilliance and apply it to your own puzzle, it becomes an entirely different beast. For example, when I read Lord of the Flies, the chant those boys sang when killing the pig struck me as horrid and poetic at the same time: "Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood." In mine it became a chant of the sirens when killing the siren hunter: "Kill the siren hunter. Suck out his soul. Tear at his flesh. Feed him to the crabs.” It's the same, and yet it's not. Stealing again?

"Nothing of me is original. I'm the combined effort of everyone I've ever known." I will close with my favorite, from one of my favorite authors, Chuck Palahniuk. Even if you're not trying, everything you say has been already said by someone else. The question then is, why would anyone listen? Because we have bad memory and need reminders. And not just any reminders, but reminders that we know. They feel warm and fuzzy and familiar: bad guys will die, good guys will win, love will conquer all, and we will all live happily every after. That's what we're rooting for, the dream that will lift us from the grey reality of existence, that's why we read books. And if you're trying to reinvent the bicycle, well, you might lose readers instead of gaining them. For example, I wrote many paragraphs in my novel starting with "Me, I'm twisting on the floor. My Daddy, he is standing and looking." I've been terrified that this is awful writing, until I saw Chuck do the same. He, in a sense, gave me permission to continue. Am I original? No, I stole again. Right out of the ether.

With that, tell me, how do you STEAL? What are your favorite quotes that help you steal like a true artist, and maybe even comment with your own examples? Please? I'd like me to steal some, if you don't mind. 

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