I sat down to write the next great American Novel. Only the page was blank. I stared at the page for a long time and it blankly returned my gaze. I sat down to write the great fiction and discovered that I have no talent for it. I could develop characters and dialogue. Plot and conflict are conspicuously absent. So much for riveting.
One of my very favorite books is called the Quest for Christa T by Christa Wolf, published in East Germany in 1968. Nothing much happens to Christa T. She doesn’t even have a last name. She is simply crushed by the conformity of society and then she dies. Her lovely life wasted. The beautiful, poetic book that had nothing overtly to do with politics and yet was politically charged. If you get a chance read The Quest for Christa T. It is an exquisite book and I highly recommend it.
My take away from The Quest for Christa T? No overt plot. I learned everything I know about plot-writing from a book where nothing much happens. Of course, I’ve read hundreds of books and the vast majority of them have plots. One might think that from Ulysses to Dan Brown, I’d have some clue about conflict. I appreciate irony.
One for the themes running through that The Quest for Christa T is found in the line “When, if not now?” When I am languishing in inaction, things to do with writing or not, I find that quote rattles in my head. It works for decision making, difficult conversations, and getting the grass cut.
Writing was a long-time item on my “to do “list. “When, if not now?” echoed in my head. I joined Women Writing for a Change. I love that organization for many reasons. Most of all it brought me kindred spirits, Mo, and Kathy. Thankfully it also brought deadlines. “Now” replaced the elusive “when”.
A week into the course, I had a deadline and a blank page staring me down. I blinked first and used the class prompt simply to avoid the white computer screen. I felt like I’d wimped out, but the page had words on it. The prompt was about scarcity and abundance and I’m sure meant for deep reflection on something spiritual or weighty. I wrote about chocolate. After reading my page, one of the women in the group asked, “Do you always write like that?” I said “yes.” I mean, I write how I write, right? Until that moment I’d given style little thought. That essay, “Chocolate Abundance” was selected to be read on the radio -- at 6:00 am on a Sunday. Not even I showed up to listen.
The next week yielded another essay. I write about life, family, kids, sailing--about whatever is happening. Writing forces me to think, to truly observe, and to be both honest and selective. Often I sit down to a blank page, but I have found a place to start. When I’m lucky, a delicious moment unfolds and I know I’ve got a story in hand, but those are rare occurrences. I’ve written all my life, mostly exposition. I’ve tried my hand at poetry and will leave that to the wonderful women who share this web site who are good at it. I’ve tried the occasional short story and have a few that are okay. Undoubtedly, most should get introduced to the delete button. I’ll keep trying. There must be a plot in me somewhere.
My writing is for the joy, for the clarity of thought, and to capture one small slice of life. But mostly it just is about the writing.
For more of Patty's writing, follow the links on Writers Resources Cafe.
Reading with Dodie
Sailing with the kids
After reading about Patty Lawrence, return to biographies page.