|Using Intuitive Collage To Write About Your Life
By Andy Couturier
Accomplished essayist Andy Couturier offers Writing From The Subconscious workshops in OPEN EXCHANGE's Writing category. Here are some of his great writing tips:
The current interest in the memoir and in the personal essay points toward a recognition in our culture that writing is a powerful conduit to our own understandings, and that each person has their own unique and individual story to tell. The act of writing can connect us to our memories, connect memories to each other, and help us unearth the obscured meanings that our experiences hold for us just below the level of consciousness. On a very basic level, writing is a way to communicate with yourself. Furthermore, writing can help us externalize the roiling sentiments and emotions that chew away at our peace of mind so that we can look at them from afar and understand and evaluate them objectively, with our whole selves.
Writing is so powerful, and can so often bring us pleasure, comfort or even transcendence, it seems odd that we are taught to think of it as an arduous, miserable chore. Perhaps we are holding on to outdated rules and preconceptions about why we write in the first place, and what is the "proper" way to express ourselves. When our purpose in writing is to explore, discover and understand our own history, it's strange that we are still such slaves to the internalized expectations of others. If we try to cram our style into some kind of pre-formatted set of expectations that we picked up (perhaps subliminally) from a composition class or a high school text book, we often end up telling an untruth about our own lives. No wonder our soul rebels and writing becomes heavy and painful. So how do we escape the inner voice that nit-picks and crabs from the sidelines as we explore our memory and our deep creativity? How can we access the archetypal and subliminal wisdom of our intuition that knows exactly what to say and the words to say it with?
When we write for ourselves, when we write to recover the rich dimensions of our memory, the first thing we need to do, I believe, is to abandon all preconceptions about form. To tell the truth of a story, or the many truths, we need to allow the shape of the story to find itself.
What do I mean by shape, by form? Perhaps an example will explain it best. Let us say that you are writing about the divorce of your parents when you were in third grade. Instead of holding on to a chronological format that requires that you write pages of background before you get to the sharp instant where your father explains to you that he has fallen in love with another woman, you could begin instead with an imaginary letter to your sister, written in your eight-year-old voice. Or maybe adopting the pose of a detached historian or newspaper journalist could allow you to frame up a rough scaffolding of "who, what, when, where, why and how." Later, if you want, you can then return to insert the sounds of the water running in the sink with nobody watching or caring, the torn pieces of carpet you stared at while the adults tried to reason with you, and the smell of the acrid electric blanket that someone forgot to turn off as your life whirled down around you.
Or you might even feel the most freedom by using simple listing. Just scrawl out so-called "random" impressions, in whatever order they come to you, such as snatches of remembered dialogue, feelings in your muscles or the insight you have gained about the event since that moment. This listing technique allows you to collage together fragments in a way that most closely mirrors the structure of memoryand even the very movement of the mind itself.
Now that you have this arsenal of different kinds of style to work with, you can put them together in startling ways. By letting go of a preordained structure and instead inviting radical breaks or ruptures between one voice/style and another, you not only render the truth of your own experience more authentically, you are often able to move into an altered phase of consciousness, almost a trance state, in which the intuition takes hold and the subconscious becomes alive and supple. Once the deep mind is activated and you are roaming the landscape of the past, many previously opaque experiences become accessible, and, simultaneously, your language becomes potentized and more truly reflective of your feelings.
This technique of intuitive collaging of disparate elements drawn from memory and insight give the readerif you choose to show your work at alla unique gift because it allows her to make her own understandings from the empty spaces created where the straightforward topic sentences, explanations and reasons used to stand. Thus the absence of explicit connection between fragments replicates the jump cuts that we experience not only in our daily existence but also in our inner life as well. For, as has often been said before, the truth is not one, but many.
We write to understand who we are, but we also often write to be understood by others. So, of course it's understandable that we might bring our writing down to the lowest common denominator, to a one-plus-one-equals-two attempt at some imagined "coherence." But we need to know that the reader who is engaged will make the connections where we have left the blank spaces, and will be so much more fulfilled by being allowed to do it herself....
If it happens that the first draft of such a collaged piece of writing has spots which are difficult for some readers to understand, we need only remember that it is far easier to revise a piece full of energy back in the direction of easier comprehension than it is to add electricity to a plodding and predictable narrative. Of course experimentation is risky: it is possible that we may be misunderstood. But how much better to be occasionally misunderstood when we are telling the whole, complex, multi-sided, contradictory truth than to be universally comprehended telling a two-dimensional, photocopied version of our own quirky and complicated lives.
So when you pick up a pen to write your personal story, try to let your desires and hunches guide you from word to word, from memory to understanding, from speculation to epiphany. There's no need to impose rigid conceptions about roman-numeral outlines and "beginning, middle and end." This writing is for you. Let each element lead naturally into the next and let this mosaic of the mind lead you on a path of honesty about your own life and your experience inside of it. You may surprise yourself.
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