What makes our writing – or for that matter, our lives worth others’ attention?
You want to write to move people in some way based on creation of drama which, at least when coming up with a story, seems to be closely related to notions of conflict between characters. These conflicts may or may not be based on something familiar – you could argue that everything is framed around the familiar, which is different to knowing something well – or imaginary contexts filled with imaginary people and their imaginary consequences. Whatever it is, there’s a search for drama (however subtle) both from a writing point of view, as well as a reader’s. But most of us don’t think our humdrum lives of taking the bus to university, staring at the blinking cursor on a white page, or queuing for our morning fix make for readable memoirs. We may assume our lives are not examples of book spines we would choose out of a line up. So where do we start when someone tells us to write what we know? Does our everyday lend itself to the structural constraints and freedoms of narrative?
Real lives are haphazard and extemporaneous. The lack of choreography in everyday life is an interesting premise in itself. You would think all you would need is a protagonist – you. And then situations you encounter would provide a cause-consequence chain which, if written, could take the shape of a story. A reasonable counter to this will be the issue of routine – a plan that regulates daily lives. But surely even within sets of repeated events, there are narrative possibilities. New things could happen to you in circumstances you may assume to be stable. It is those unpredictable happenings that may surprise us and steer a regular day into an uncalculated trajectory. Those little snapshots in time are the stories that we all have and don’t necessarily share. Almost get run over by a speeding car today? I didn’t. My bank cancelled my card today. Did yours?
And yet, despite our differences, the stories we read and love tap into something we all can feel – love, anger, fear, desire. We live them every day.
But if I told you that I couldn’t wear makeup in Delhi because it melts in the heat, would that intrigue you? And likewise, if a Canadian friend tells me they go to work in subzero temperatures, I want to know – HOW AND WHY. And this line of questioning is the basis of fiction, both in terms of its creation and its perception. And that is because it also serves as the blueprint to how we perceive, structure, and think about the dramatic units; the little moments webbed together into the cycles of our days. Life writing introduces a privileged intimacy that we don’t expect or sometimes accept. When you write about a phone call from home, or about a mistake you’ve made – it is everything you do and feel and think that makes the atmosphere yours. Your story needn’t be the best, your storytelling should be. And while this may seem to be a self-centred celebration of a kind of uniqueness, I don’t mean it as a heightening or deification of ego. Rather, our unique view is our capability to contribute to global perspectives or accounts. It is not so much a question about the worth of single units of experience, but about the importance of telling each other stories in the first place.
Yes, this is my story. And no, it isn’t yours. But we are connected by the mere fact that we have stories to tell. Our moments make sounds worth hearing. What connects us is that noise.
Brinda Gulati is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Warwick pursuing Creative Writing. She is the founder and editor-in-chief the publication Patchwork. You can read more by Brinda here
Directed by Maureen Freely and David Morley, the Warwick Writing Programme at University of Warwick prides itself in having writing staff who not only teach but are also published authors involved in the writing industry and literary scenes. It has just opened an exciting PhD programme in Creative Writing alongside its internationally recognised flagship BA and MA programmes.
For more on the Warwick Writing Programme: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/writingprog/