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Productive Nostalgia

June 22, 2009
Nguyen Thanh Binh's "Reminiscing"

Nguyen Thanh Binh's "Reminiscing"

What’s writing?
Words that stay.

~The Dark Crystal ~

For the past week I’ve been away in the mountains recovering first from the flu and then enjoying some time out from the hustle and bustle of life.  We stayed in the Bunya Mountains, a place I mentioned in my article Writer’s Paradise a few weeks back. I had intended to do some writing, but like any holiday, “work” was the last thing on my mind and my feeble attempt to put blood on the page Friday to appease the niggles of guilt which were rising, was pathetic. Thanks to Paul’s post a few weeks back about the pitfalls of combining writing and holidays, I was prepared for the inevitable failure to meet my holiday goals. But it wasn’t all non-productive.

The crisp mountain air, the long bushwalks, the dappled sunshine on the Bunya Pines from my bedroom window and the log fire all inspired a trip down memory lane – or as Mystic Medusa terms it productive nostalgia.

Mostly I thought about our last trip to The Bunyas in August 2007. Without knowing it, I was on the verge of some major decisions. Looking back now on the hours I spent scribbling in a journal during that visit, perhaps I understood at a far deeper level what was coming. Some of the decisions made in the four months following that trip were hard, others easy, but they were all leading me on the same path … to writing.

Taking the time to reflect allowed me realise how much has changed in less than two years – what I have accomplished while, in essence, only being able to commit to writing on a part time basis. What the shift from editing to writing has meant for me, and how I’ve battled to get to a place of peace within knowing now editing, writing and publishing will always co-exist in me and that writing alone will never be enough.  Consequently, none one of them deserves any sort of literary moral high ground above the others in my psyche.

I thought about how my writing has changed and evolved – shifting away from “safe” genres into unexplored territories, away from stories with strong and obvious autobiographical bases, moving instead to rub shoulders with characters far removed from any version of “me” or “safe”. I understand now how once a door is opened you really can’t shut it and I mourn for all the years the door was firmly shut to me because I was able to force myself to commit the words to the page – giving myself permission to write badly – to write anything.  Baby steps.

I thought about the friendships which have been forged and the collaborative projects I’ve become part of. How my life as a writer has been challenged and enriched by these projects. I also thought about how I am comfortable finally to introduce myself as a writer, when I’m out socially or professionally and not feel like an interloper or a liar! And how it has been a long time coming.

All in all, the time away was a wonderful chance to relax and recharge and a good chance to take stock of my writer’s life, to give thanks and blessings for all which has transpired and manifested.

A few months ago I wrote The Lunar Writer: 10 Tips for Using the Dark MoonTip #10 was to indulge in productive nostalgia. I posed a number of questions in the article to inspire others writers to look back and take stock of the month that was. In the midst of all the email culling, pen testing, space clearing and cleaning which comes with the energy, Tip #10 is probably not something you want to do every month, however quarterly or half yearly is probably a good time frame and something different than checking in with the progress you are making month to month on your goals for the year.

This weekend saw the celebration of  the solstice, the midway point of the year which seems as good a time as any to reflect on the following questions (and which you might like to write about publicly or privately) in the coming days.

  • What have you started? What have you finished?
  • What have you been working on? What progress have you made?
  • What have you jettisoned?
  • What have you edited/redrafted? What did you want to, but never got to?
  • What work was published? What was rejected? What never made it that far? Why not?
  • What fantastic ideas/characters/plots were you gifted?
  • What concepts fell on their face? What got up and ran? Any idea why?
  • What insights have you had? Were they minor or major? How have you incorporated them into your writing life?
  • What new people did you met? Who did you say good bye to? How might/have they impacted on you?
  • What opportunities were presented? What did you do with them? If you had your time over would you make the same decision? Why? What have you achieved? What do you wish you had achieved? What do you still want to achieve?

You don’t need to answer all the questions.  Like anything, you will be drawn to some and repelled by others. I suggest you answer all questions in both categories and leave the others to another time.  The latter is often where the greatest epiphanies come from. If none of these questions appeal to you, take some time to think over the next few days to consider (and share) your journey as a writer to date.

Jodi Cleghorn may have taken a break from writing for the past week but made up ground on her reading devouring Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin and Douglas Kennedy’s TheWoman on Fifth by the warmth of a wood fire. You can follow Jodi’s Tweets @jodicleghorn or her expanding blog Writing in Black and White.

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