One thing I always find fascinating is reading about the evolution of a particular piece – about the how and why considerations of travelling from A to B via Z, that might result in an author tossing the lot and resuming somewhere around G.
Such a seemingly haphazard way of working initially made no sense to me. I’d come from a background in technical and instructional writing. For years my fiction followed those same patterns and I only ever wrote to a predetermined end point or specific theme. It took me a long time to realise I’d been forcing characters to do or say things they had no business doing or saying.
With my creativity lost in the murky depths, desperation drove me to try something new. I decided to write as freely as possible. Beginning something with absolutely no plan was a bit like stumbling around a rabbit warren. Dark, claustrophobic and seemingly endless, there was definitely some funky-smelling stuff down there. Interestingly, the process of squidging through every floret of my own writerly brain without the unpleasant prospect of clean-up and repair was also kind of comforting. I got to pluck all these ripe organic goodies out of the detritus and compost the rest in the hope of further fermentation.
Now that I had a handful of delicious nibbly bits I didn’t know what to do with them. I couldn’t tell which ones belonged in the same dish, whether a delicate sauce or rich gravy would better complement each course, and indeed how large a meal I was contemplating.
At around the same time I’d been given the topic of Autumn as a writing prompt. I’ve always had a dubious relationship with prompts, and was especially wary of using one when I’d promised myself I’d just start writing and go with whatever came out. As I didn’t hate the idea of Autumn, I filed it away for future reference thinking that maybe I’d find some lateral, unexpected way to use it.
A few days later, I saw an ad the Salvation Army had put together. It showed a teenager using a sleeping-bag / tent they’d devised to help provide the homeless with some measure of shelter and warmth. The person depicted in the ad had a dog as a companion. I remember thinking that was just as well because without it there’s no way I’d feel safe zipped up in something like that.
Sometime in the following couple of weeks, during a stream of consciousness exercise, I wrote a snippet of conversation I’d overheard on a bus. I don’t know why it came to mind at that particular moment, but I wrote it down anyway. Reading back over that day’s scribbles, I discovered I’d dropped the pronoun ‘I’ from the beginning of the sentence.
Something akin to magic followed. As I read, I heard that sentence spoken in my head. It sounded just like my best friend. In that instant, I realised I’d found the voice I didn’t even know I’d been waiting for. All those elements that had been busy percolating on a slow burn for weeks fell together into the almost fully formed title character of the piece I have appearing in Joiner Bay and Other Stories.
The first draft took less than two days to write, which for me is quadruple time and then some. Words flowed through me in a way I’d never experienced. It felt like I was channeling my friend – quite a feat given I live in Melbourne and she lives in Mildura. All that free writing I’d been so concerned with had already happened on an unconscious level and the moment I had the right voice, I was off. So far I haven’t thought about looking back.
Belinda McCormick is a Melbourne based writer of contemporary short fiction. When not delving the difficult emotional territory of broken things, she dabbles in the comedic world of her real life adventure. Her random blurts about writing can be found at belindamccormick.com, while she tweets occasionally @beejaymacs. M is her first print published piece.