Saturday, November 22, 2008

Writing As Therapy

People often make a sympathetic face when they learn I am writing a book about my mother's Alzheimer's. 'That must be therapeutic for you,' they say.

I find that condescending and insulting. How would they like it if I said to them, 'Oh, plumbing/social work/law/medicine, eh? That must be therapeutic for you,' as though all their training, experience and professionalism was cast aside in the drive to make themselves feel better.

I like writing or I wouldn't do it, but it's work to take my own particular experience and shape and form it so that a fragment gives the impression of being my whole life in a way that illuminates for the reader their own.

Lying on the sofa this cold wet Saturday afternoon, I read this in Robyn Rowland's essay in the current Meanjin:

The writing of poetry is lived. It is not something we do, but something we are. It requires a life of observation, an openness to experience, an ability to empathise, an engagement with the transforming power of image and metaphor. It requires a moment when the self is put aside, akin to meditation: an absenting of the self, so that the poem may appear...It also requires technique....Then comes the real work - the shaping, the editing.

If writing is personal, is it cathartic? When people say, 'it must have been really cathartic to write that', it irritates me. It's a statement that casts poetry into the realms of therapy and creative writing is not therapy. It's an art. One that requires practice and patience and skill. Yes, the writing might be therapeutic in that it might uncover for us our own understanding of what we feel or believe. But that individual experience needs to be made universal so that it reaches out to the next person.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fiction as truth

This evening I watched Australian Story, about Richard Flanagan, the Tasmanian novelist. As a writer, as a person and as a Tasmanian, I found it very inspiring.

It seems funny in a way that a fiction writer is such a steadfast truth teller, but I think telling the truth is what good fiction does.

Flanagan is a brave man who has written some of the best journalism I’ve read. He has spoken without hysteria against a corrupt and vindictive government and its allies in big business. You might think that’s no big deal, but sadly, in Tasmania, it is.