Monthly Archives: November 2012

Crafting Grief

What should I do, I wonder, when the words desert me? When the stories don’t bounce around the inside of my skull anymore? When the desire to tell stories is gone, and there is nothing good left in its place.

For those who don’t know me, I don’t make my living from writing – and if I did, I’d be living in a milk crate. Storytelling is my craft, but Policing is my profession. I am a cop, a Mountie, and that is both what pays my bills, and gives me fodder for many of my stories.

If you’ve been watching the news in BC, you’ll know that we recently lost a young member of our organization to a Motor-Vehicle collision. It was an awful, tragic way to lose such a young life, and believe you me, it fucking hurts.

Adrian – our newly fallen – and I were not best friends. But, I used to work with him, and I knew him; I’d laughed at his jokes, and sat across from him at the dinner table. What he was, was my brother: another cop who wore the scarlet and strapped down his courage every day to go out and do a difficult job. I’ve called for help at work, and he came running, and I did the same for him. We’ve stood in rainy parking lots, after a difficult scene, when we had a little grief to share between the few who were there, and passed it around to make the burden lighter. He was a good cop, and a good man, damned good, and I was proud to say I had opportunity to work with him.

With Adrian’s death a deep grief has settled over the whole of the city I work in. I’ve worked at the same detachment for 9 years, and I have never heard that building so quiet; There are no voices raised in friendly greeting, no laughter. People who have worked together for years will pass in the hallways without so much as a nod. Everyone is carrying their own burden, and they are content to do so in silence. Adrian’s death has left an empty space in us all, and no matter how hard we look, there is nothing to fill it but sorrow.

That empty space in me means an absence of stories. When the grief moved in it pushed all the words out. It might be silly for me to take this so hard, but this boy’s death has affected me deeply, and there is no craft left in me, only a deflated sense of despair.

I’ve not written a word since I learned of his death, and, previously, I wrote every day. There have been no notes, no plotting, no jotting down of ideas, nothing. Any ability as a writer I might have once had has deserted me, and I don’t have much inclination to go looking for it again.

As I sat in my car this morning, looking at the spot where his life faded, wishing he were still here and this grief was absent from all our lives, a line from a book I’ve read, (I don’t know where I remember it from, and if you know, please tell me) popped into my head.

“Grief is not for the dead, it is for the living, for the dead have no care and the living must go on.”

I don’t know who said it, and I won’t try and take credit for it, but it is true. Our friend is gone, but we remain, and the way must be forward.

How, I asked myself as these ideas moved sluggishly in my head, do I accomplish the reclamation of my craft when this grief won’t let me be.

The only answer I could come up with was the same as the question: The Craft.

So, I came home from a 12 hour night shift, and I wrote this out. I put in as much of my own feeling as I could, and tried to give you an idea of why I feel this way. I got these lines down, crafted these words, in hopes that you would read them and understand my grief, and by doing so would help me carry a little sliver of this pain. I would not unburden myself completely, but I sure could use some help with the weight.

I think, now, after writing this, that I will be able to go on. That in a couple of days, once I’ve marched in Adrian’s memorial, and the final brick of closure is in place, the stories might be inclined to come back.

For me to claim that I will spend my career writing in his memory would be stupid and pretentious; his closest memories are for people who were dearer to him than I.

But I promise you this: I won’t forget, either.

Thanks for stopping by, and helping me shoulder the load. And please, if you will, have a good thought for Adrian.

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Slapping Your Inner Diva

I’ve recently finished the first draft of the sequel to my novel, “The Watch,” and I’ve begun that first, all important, substantive edit. As I go through my own work, the phrases that are repeated in my head are “What was I thinking?” and “Remind me again why I thought I was a writer.”

When you first start out writing, you think telling the story is the hard part. If you mention this idea to anyone who has been working at the craft for a while, you’re likely to get stabbed with a fountain pen. Any veteran storyteller will, quite vehemently, inform you that telling the story is only the beginning; once it’s down you have to make it good.

Every new writer, me included (hell…me especially), thinks their first draft is spectacular. It is an organic, dynamic storytelling experience where sheer brilliance pours onto the page like the tears of the muse. “I don’t need to edit this stuff,” a fledging storyteller will say to himself. “This shit is gold!” But after that first telling is through, you begin to separate the real writers from those who will never get published.

After I’d finished my first book I received some good advice: “Let it season a while, then go and look at it again.” While I have been hit in the head a lot, I was smart enough to listen to that wisdom, and I left my story alone for six weeks while I went and pounded away at something else that probably sucked. When I came back, and started to re-read the story, it quickly became apparent that I had a lot of work to do.

Editing your own work is difficult because you’re always very close to the story. You really have to separate yourself from the love of your own voice and examine the story with a critical eye; I had a hard time with this then, and still struggle with it, although now that I’m aware of my own idiocy it has become a little easier. Once you can achieve that, you can start really making improvements to your work.

A dear friend of mine, Kathy Chung (whose blog you can find here) is a damned fine writer, and through her skill realized that she needed to make significant changes to her current manuscript. Through the editing process she cut 21,000 (yes, that is twenty-one thousand) words from her story. If you’ve never tried to do that to a novel length work, believe-you-me that is a fuck-load of work. Many beginning writers, even if that necessity became clear to them, would not put in that kind of effort.

And that is why they fail.

Bearing Kathy’s example in mind, I’m currently going through my manuscript, red pen in hand, chopping shit down like it’s going out of style. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, put in a lot of needless words, rambled on when I shouldn’t ought be rambling, but none of it is fatal to the story. It can all be fixed. It is simply a matter of being willing to do the work to fix it.

Once you’ve finished your story make sure you allow it to season a while. Then, when you look at it again, ensure you’re doing so with an honest, critical eye. Then, when you show it to people and solicit feedback, actually try and listen to what they say and use it to effectively edit your work. You cannot show your stuff to people with the expectation that they are only going to tell you that you’re awesome. Constructive criticism is an important part of the writing process, and you must, MUST, be willing to accept it.

If you believe your story is good, then someone else will believe that as well. But you have to be honest with yourself and put together the best story you possibly can. If you’re not willing to work at the story, make changes, make cuts, and slap around your inner diva, then maybe the writing life isn’t for you.

If I learned to get over myself and write a better story, then you can too.

It’s a long road, but we do not walk it alone. Tag along if you’re inclined.

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