Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Light at the End by Joy Corcoran #ChaBooCha


The Light at the End
by Joy Corcoran

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.—Douglas Adams

I love writing intensives like the Chapter Book Challenge. They forces me to make writing a priority, but I’ve learned over the years, that such intensity courts disaster. A deadline puts the universe on edge. Appliances and vehicles develop strange tics; the flu makes rips through the family; the toilet stops up; friends need support; pets break out in bizarre rashes. It may be that all these things happen even when I don’t have a deadline, but it feels like they all conspire to make it impossible to stick to a writing schedule.

And yet, even with all the interruptions, the challenge keeps writing on the front burner and makes me get back to it as soon as disaster subsides. 

Putting together a novel or chapter book is such a difficult thing. Inevitably, I don’t make the deadlines I set for myself. I wonder sometimes if I could keep one if a publisher was waiting for my draft. But I know many published writers who can’t make the muse work any faster than it wishes. And most editors seem to understand that a deadline is malleable thing.

Anne Lamott said that trying to write a novel is like trying to tuck an octopus into bed. I sometimes think that writing something like a short story, a picture book, or a chapter book might be easier. In reality, though, it may be a smaller octopus, but it has the same number of tentacles.

Even if I do make the deadline, and at the end of the month have a great polished draft, there’s no guarantee that anyone in the publishing world is going to read it. I may be revising and resending for years, and still not get published.

What, then, is the point?

For me, in spite of repeated “failures,” and long periods of not even trying to get published, the work of writing, the process itself, is the point. It’s the real payoff. Writing helps me organize my own stories and create a personal mythology. As I struggle to describe what is happening in a story, I’m rewarded with language for and insight into what’s happening in my life.

Not everyone wants to hear what’s happening in my life. Stories of all kinds are competing for everyone’s attention – books, movies, videos, games – and let’s not forget real life. 

But paper always wants to hear what I have to say. It’s always urging me to say things more clearly, to create a more accurate, better plotted way of telling my heart’s truths. 

And when I do finally create a real story, with a beginning, middle and just the exact right ending – there’s no better feeling. What a delight to know that I’ve taken all those loose threads and woven them into a blanket that covers the octopus perfectly.

Most of my stories aren’t published. Most of them never will be. Many of them are still in my journals, scribbled out in cursive with a ball point pen.

My novel has been worked on, worked over, and reworked many times. I have yet to decide if it’s for young adults or for all adults. I often feel frustrated by it and by the compulsion to keep going back to it. 

The poet W. S. Merwin once said that if you’re not sure you’re a writer, try to quit. I tried. Why set myself up for failure? Why work for months on a story that’s not going to earn me any money? 

But I couldn’t quit. I wrote journal after journal, but I kept all my stories close to my heart and didn’t share them. It was both fear and confusion. A lot was going on in my life. I had health problems, money problems, and relationship problems. But in the midst of all that, because I couldn’t quit writing, because I kept up that compulsion, I discovered the real treasure of writing stories. 

Life is complicated and much of what we feel is murky. We stumble around in a kind of darkness with too much information and not enough understanding. A good story puts things in perspective and creates a map of where I’ve been, and where I might go. When we create our own stories, we ravel up the frayed edges of our lives. Even if you’re writing pure fantasy, some bit of yourself becomes clearer, more defined.
 
I ultimately write to understand myself, to have the words, images, and metaphors of my life sketched out. I write to find my own light. 

What about you? Why do you write?
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Joy Corcoran is a writer and artist who divides her time between Memphis, Tennessee, and Portland, Oregon. She’s had stories published in the Oxford American, River City Writers, New American Fiction and other literary and small presses. She wrote the 12 Lessons for Greatness, stories and essay for children and their parents on values. Her art work has been shown in Memphis and Portland.  She’s illustrated a music video. She serves as an art and story mentor at Bridge Meadows, an intergeneration community that serves families adopting children from the foster care system. You can find her book reviews and essays on joycorcoran.com.


*****
Give-away



Today's prize is the book Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You by Ray Bradbury. If you are a signed-up member of ChaBooCha, all you need to do to be entered into the drawing for this book is comment on this blog post. Winners will be selected from a random number generator on March 31st at noon (GMT).

21 comments:

  1. My passion is to make Scripture and History come alive for my readers. Thanks, Joy, for encouraging us along the way!

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    1. Thanks so much for reading my post!

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  2. What an inspirational post Joy. You really touched my writing heart. I am just starting on the writer's road. Some days, sometimes for many days I am consumed with writing, both on paper and in my head. Other days not so much but I just keep at it because I need to. Thank you.

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    1. Being able to write and find words to define our lives is a huge gift. Thanks for reading my post!

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  3. Tucking an octopus in bed…What a great analogy!

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  4. Awesome post, Joy. Thank you for the inspiration and the encouragement. BOTH very much needed today.

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    1. It's nice when something keeps you going. I'm glad my post helped.

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  5. "But paper always wants to hear what I have to say." That is genius!!!! Thank you, Joy. You had a lot of wonderful things to say...I also love the octopus analogy....and the honesty.

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    1. Isn't paper the most generous friend? I'm glad you found meaning in my post. Keep people collecting :)

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  6. Joy,
    It's about the journey, Joy thanks for the reminder.

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  7. Thanks for the post, good to read

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  8. Deadlines do help and Joy says it well. Thanks

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  9. Inspirational post. Thank you!

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  10. Love the octopus analogy too ! So true...

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  11. Terrific post, Joy! I so know what Ann Lamont meant when she said, "Tucking an octopus in bed."

    I write for the same reason I breathe - because if I didn't, I would die.
    ~ Isaac Asimov

    Two of my favorite quotes are:

    Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one's own sunshine.
    ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Motivation is when your dreams put on work clothes.
    ~ Benjamin Franklin

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    1. I'm putting those in my quotation journal. Thanks for sharing!

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  12. Thanks everyone for the great comments. I'm glad to know we're all dealing with the same struggles and finding the same rewards.

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  13. Thanks for sharing, Joy! I can relate to "much of what we feel is murky."

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  14. i write because when the character comes to tell the story.. they dont shut up til i write it out.. thank goodeness they nick off after first draft normally.... but the ones that make me keep working at it.. they are the ones that shine

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  15. I write because I have to! Like Kelly, the characters don't shut up and keep bugging me until the story is written. I love ChaBooCha for the deadline, though life often gets in the way. This month has been crazy!

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  16. I agree with Melissa and Kelly also! It's like a twilight zone episode where the character haunts the man until he writes about him! I'm going to try and tackle that octopus and keep her undercover! thank you for sharing this wonderful post!

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