Thursday, June 7, 2007

On the creative process

I had a friend a few years back, upon hearing I was an English major, ask what my poems or novels I write are about. I quickly explained I was not a creative writing student, and I wrote literary analysis about creative works, not creative works themselves. Not easily distracted, he asked me what I would write about it I did write fiction. I was at a loss.

I never grew up wanting to write the great American novel. Part of it probably dealt with the fact that I can't recall ever reading a work by a woman in my entire high school experience, and I didn't (and let's face it, don't) care for the writings of dead white men, so I didn't really have a venue for seeing myself that way. Part of my struggle with the creative process is I wanted to be brilliant immediately. I wasn't willing to write the series of awful, tacky, immature writings that most writers go through before hitting on their form and message. My exploits into song-writing are the same way - I start something, and quickly get embarrassed by how cheesy it is and refuse to finish it. And I simply never felt the need to write. We'll just say I wasn't the kid who sat in my room writing stories about Alastaire the beluga whale and his exploits in the Bermuda triangle. I've never felt like I had something important to say, and it just seemed silly to have to come up with something to say to write.

But it has been on my mind recently. I've been thinking about what I would write. What do I have to say? What ideas do I want to explore? This is what I came up with.

If I were to write a work of fiction, I would want it to be about a polygamous wife back in the early Utah days of the church, and I’d want it to be complex – no trite “but she’s better off financially,” or “poor repressed victim of patriarchy” here. It isn’t a simple issue. I’d like to name her Grete, and I picture her as an immigrant. I’d want her to be quirky, maybe even seen as senile by those around her. I envision her relationship being the result of a man in her community being called to be polygamous. He feels like he needs to obey but doesn't really want to, so he asks his wife to pick the new second wife. Her, not being thrilled about it at all, but also feeling obligated, picks frumpy, elderly slightly senile Grete - the farthest thing from a sexual threat, and a bit of a punishment to her husband, in a way. I picture it being in journal format – I’d want to hear Grete’s voice. I wouldn’t beat around the bush about the sexual aspect of things. It would get into issues of what happens when we obey out of obligation, rather than true devotion. I’d want to focus on the real blessings and struggles of being polygamous in those times, for better and for worse. And on the blessings and struggles of being a woman in this church. I think that’s an issue I need to come to terms with.