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Flying in Fiction -- by Lily Iona Mackenzie

It amazes me that after all of these years spent writing in a variety of genres (novels, short stories, poetry, memoir, essays), I’m still learning about process and other writing-related things. Recently, I’ve been working on what I expect will become another novel. It draws on some of my childhood experiences growing up on the Canadian prairies. Of course, it’s no surprise to anyone that writers use such events in their fiction (and non-fiction), but I find that I get bogged down if I stay too close to the actual material.

When I’m recreating something I’ve already lived through, especially in fiction, it loses its appeal and I don’t feel any excitement in writing it. I write to make discoveries, not just to reinhabit the past. I realize that sometimes we need to revisit past events in order to make sense of them, especially in writing memoir. But in fiction, for the work to take on life for me, I must only use it as a seed that I plant and embellish through invention. If my imagination doesn’t get stimulated and involved, it’s a trudge each day to try and press forward.

In the material I’m currently developing, the main character has similar experiences to mine in acquiring a stepfather at an early age and moving to his farm. However, to recreate certain occurrences from that time bores me, especially when writing fiction. It doesn’t interest me to recreate myself in a character—though all writers do this to a certain degree, parts of ourselves inhabiting all of our creations. I need to step into a new identity and discover what makes this other personality unique.

Once I realized what was happening in my current work, I was able to let go and fly. Now I can’t wait to return each day to the manuscript and discover where it wants to go. The characters and setting are taking on their own life, very different from what I originally envisioned.

For me, that’s the main pleasure of writing in any genre: if I don’t learn something new, then it’s tedious and not worth my time or my reader’s. Writing needs to be about these voyages into the unknown where we make visible what has been hidden. It’s like fishing, lowering our line into the waters of the unconscious and snagging who knows what.

Posted by Lily Iona Mackenzie 26 Dec 2014 at 02:47
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Responses to this blog

Imjustdru 29 Dec 2014 at 04:16  
Great blog.
Peggyc 29 Dec 2014 at 18:56  
Well said, and much appreciated.
Particularly resonated with:
"Now I can?t wait to return each day to the manuscript and discover where it wants to go."
I am learning that's the clue I am on the right track in using my own voice, feels more like "channeling" the characters than building/creating/directing them.
Thank you for putting down in this post what I have been feeling, it helps to validate my "newbie" discoveries, and amplifies taking personal experience as a base to build from, not just regurgitate.
Jordyleigh 2 Jan 2015 at 12:14  
Wow, thank you for writing this! I really struggle with this. It was actually my sister who first pointed out that the character in the book I'm now writing was... ME! Sure, I had realized that she resembled me in certain ways, but my sister really helped me realize that it went further than that. And I was wondering why, as I went on, writing my novel became more and more of a chore! Well, I went back and complete re-wrote that book after having first developed a unique personality for my character and established a home and environment around her that was not the same as mine. That made everything FUN and I experienced once more what I so love about writing.
Iona 11 Jan 2015 at 19:24  
It's great to hear other's experiences! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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