Friday, July 29, 2011

The Alchemy of Writing

Perhaps, I should back up and explain what I mean by "transformative writing." To me, writing is like alchemy. It's taking the dull leaden pieces of life and turning them into gold -- or art. Whether I am writing a poem, a novel, or memoir, I am endeavoring to use the strange and wondrous chemistry of language to turn experience, thought and emotion into communication, expression, connection.

Why do you write? What is the urge that first prompted you to pick up a pen or turn to your laptop in the middle of the night? Was it for money? Fame? Love? Those are all nice things to have, and some writers actually get them somewhere along the way. But your desire to write probably has a different origin. Something inside you suspects that writing can change your life or that it can change someone else’s life to some degree. I'm not saying this was a conscious decision. You may have simply enjoyed playing around with words and that's what prompted you to begin writing. But you have an innate knowledge that words matter, that how you say something can utterly transform what you say. You know this because it has happened to you. At some point in your life (probably at many points) you read something -- a book, a poem, an essay, a story -- that opened a door in your mind, enabled your soul to expand, or changed your perception. Now, you want to do the same thing for yourself and possibly for others with your own words and ideas. You want to transform the awful, the mundane or even the transitory into something lasting and beautiful. You want to create art out of life.

I see this process happen in writing workshops all the time. Given ten minutes and a topic, the writers will reach into their subconscious and draw out something they never even suspected was there. When they share their findings with the group in the form of writing, we are all transformed in some small way.

So the transformation takes place on many levels. I was a drug addict for several years in my youth. I transformed that period of shame into my first novel, Sweet Fire, which was something I was not ashamed of. Readers have told me that reading that book changed the way they looked at addiction. The experience was transformed, I was transformed, and readers were transformed.

I can think of a long list of books, poems and stories that I have found transformative. They have changed my way of thinking, added to my understanding, or enriched my imagination. One poem that stands out is "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot. I had no idea the hypnotic power of language until I read that poem. I was only in the eighth grade and yet now I had some understanding of despair and survival in the adult world.

What book, poem, essay or short story have you found transformative?

No comments:

Post a Comment