Quote of the Week: “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” Confucius
Writing Exercise of the Week: Three burly men walk into the North Kohala Public Library. Each of them speaks in low whispers to a librarian, requesting a specific kind of book. What three books are they requesting and why? What does this reveal about each of these men?
Do you know what a found object is? Borrowed from the French (objet trouvé), it’s a term most frequently used by artists, referring to an object that has a non-art function but has been modified or transformed into an art form. It’s up to the artist to decide how to re-interpret the object.
Think about a wooden spoon. The artist may play off of its original purpose—cooking something up, stirring the pot—or it may be emotional in nature—the warmth of a home-cooked meal or the sting from a thwack on the butt. It’s possible, too, to transform it into something entirely new—the wooden spoon becomes a tool for a scribe, a picket fence, a police baton. The meaning can be simple or complex. It’s all up to the artist.
Novels are all about found objects. What looks like a normal day is not. A simple dinner at the bowling alley turns into a marriage proposal. An odd, reclusive neighbor is a superhero in disguise. A deadly drug becomes the only thing that can save the world. What might originally seem one way gets transformed by the writer into something else entirely. As extreme as some of these examples may seem, they resonate with us because we’ve all lived life long enough to know this: things are not always black and white or absolute, even when we want them to be. Things change, and so do people.
This week I had several budding novelists and memoirists tell me they hadn’t written for a while. Most felt guilty, having set up a writing area in their home, a writing schedule, and so on. But instead of writing, they lived their lives. They visited with friends, ate good meals, did their taxes. Was this procrastination? And if so, what could they do about it?
My answer was simple. First, no guilt. Second, observe. That’s right. If you’re not going to be writing, then observe what you’re doing and what the people around you are doing. What’s going on right now in the world? Pay attention. Writers get their material from life, but this is only helpful to the extent that you’re taking in what’s going on. Consider it research.
Observing human behavior—ours or others—is important preparation for a writer. What do you know or think you know about people? What do you see being played out? When have you been surprised, taken aback, shocked, enthralled? These observations, however casual, are important. Sure, an English degree or Masters in Fine Arts might help you with your writing career, but the best writers I know are armed with this: the ability to observe and take in the world around them, then turn it into something different or new.
You’ll know when you’re ready to sit back down and turn your attention to the page. You can try writing for 15 minutes a day as a warm up, building up to an hour or more, all the time telling yourself that the time you took not writing was a period of information gathering. No sense suffering at the desk and staring at a blank page. Forgo the guilt as well. Write, and if you find you can’t write, then live and observe.
Darien Gee is a national bestselling author based in Waimea. Her latest novel, The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society, is available now. She also writes under the name Mia King. Learn more at dariengee.com and miaking.com.