By Karen Charlton
Anna Funder wrote Stasiland, a tale of life in East Germany under Stasi rule, as ‘an exercise against forgetting’. When the book was published in Germany, after 23 rejections, Funder was berated at the book launch by a female audience member. The German woman demanded to know “Who gave you the right to write about us?” Funder rebutted by asking “From what authority should I have sought permission?”
Along with Funder’s superior control of language and the ability to recreate the ‘nuclear mustard’ of the Stasi regime, of my study of the book, this is the Funder quote that remains with me.
It’s true of any book. From what authority does one seek permission to write any story? For no story truly belongs to us. Who are we to take slivers of life away from the world and then turn it back around?
If there were an office somewhere downtown where I could show up with my files and apply for a book writing permit, I would be there in a splash. But book writing isn’t like that; it’s tentative, experimental. It’s a gamble.
In the case of a first time writer, often one is looking for, but never really finding, permission to write a story. Stories are born through a desire to reveal a truth or create a world or resolve an issue, and at this delicate time in their creation, the only person that believes in this world is the writer. Who themselves probably does not even consider themselves a writer. It takes precision and dedication to create a world which balances on a breath.
Is it confidence? Is it boldness? Faith in the creative process? Faith in oneself?
Striving to finish my own first draft, I’ve tried everything. I’ve studied creative writing; I’ve written professionally; I’ve entered short story competitions; I’ve shared my work with the world. In every book or newspaper I read, I’m looking for a way into my story, even when I don’t mean to. The only thing I haven’t tried – and is by far the most difficult – is to dedicate time to sit and write every day. I have productive spurts, followed sharply by lulls.
I write around my book, but often I find some other reason not to work on it. Do I have everything I need for this journey? I pat my pockets and check my bags but I don’t know precisely what I feel I’m missing.
I see the dilemma in my mother, who piles travel brochures high on her coffee table, getting quotes on prices, cross-referencing dates on her calendar, checking airport bus times, but only after every single box is ticked does she actually proceed with her booking. No matter all the family pets have died and no longer need her, the children are grown, she has the money, she has the time; there is something else holding her back. Is it caution? Is it doubt?
I actually don’t believe writing is about the writer at all. The biggest struggle seems to be to get the writer out of the way so the real story can come out. Like a difficult birth; the mother must get in the right head space to allow herself to open up for this child to enter the world. Why is it so hard to get out of the way?
So while I probably I have everything I need for my journey, there’s actually one thing I need to get rid of in order to make the distance. This self-consciousness has to go. Deliberateness is the death-knell for creative writing.