Monday, August 1, 2016

Story Excavation

By Kristy McCaffrey

How do writers find their stories?

The great mythologist Joseph Campbell stated in The Hero With A Thousand Faces: “Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind.”

Stories live within us, whether we acknowledge them or not. A writer’s job is to excavate this terrain and bring it forth into the world. The act of experiencing a well-told tale, via a novel or a film or a bedtime story, will activate this internal landscape, sparking a recognition deep in the psyche.

A writer uses any number of tools at his or her disposal—intuition, dreams, research, imagination. Shaman and dream archaeologist Robert Moss says that stories are hunting for the right person to tell them. If a story is pressing on you to be told, and you ignore the call, the narrative will find another outlet for expression. This has often been called an artist’s muse, and many a writer has lamented when their source of inspiration has left them.

How to invite the stargazer, the fantasizer, the daydreamer to remain close? In Women Who Run With The Wolves, Jungian psychologist Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes says that (for women) the Wild Woman is necessary for all that is needed and known. Wild Woman is a vehicle to our instinctual nature, bringing us close to the wild terrain of our most primitive self.

“It means to establish territory, to find one’s pack, to be in one’s body with certainty and pride regardless of the body’s gifts and limitations, to speak and act in one’s behalf, to be aware, alert, to draw on the innate feminine powers of intuition and sensing, to come into one’s cycles, to find what one belongs to, to rise with dignity, to retain as much consciousness as we can.”

One way to excavate is through story collecting, an excellent device to fill the creative coffers. The more story bones acquired, the more tools that are at hand in creating the ‘whole’ story.

Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down The Bones, offers other ideas: carry a notebook with you at all times, practice timed writing with no editing (first thoughts aren’t controlled by the ego), write consistently to strengthen the storytelling muscle.

But anything we do fully, we do alone. This is especially true with writing. And while writing for others can be motivating, while story hunting may be fueled by the desire for accolades, always remember that the process isn’t simply to trigger an awareness and a change within the reader, but also to grow the vast reservoir of the soul-terrain of the writer herself. Goldberg says, “Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate.”

“That’s very nice if they want to publish you, but don’t pay too much attention to it. It will toss you away. Just continue to write.” ~ Katagiri Roshi

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Kristy McCaffrey has been writing since she was very young, but it wasn’t until she was a stay-at-home mom that she considered becoming published. She’s the author of several historical western romances, all set in the American southwest. She lives in the Arizona desert with her husband, two chocolate labs, and whichever of their four teenage children happen to be in residence.

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Rain Trueax said...

Great thoughts and sources :) I think we keep the muse by following it and not necessarily the dollar. Every writer wants to make money, of course, but I don't think the muse cares about it. So if we are fortunate with our muse, and what we are getting fits the current zeitgeist, it's a win win. It doesn't always work that way and turning off the muse is a way I stop hearing until I open back up to creative juices mattering most with the sales secondary (not not unimportant, of course).

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Very true, Rain. For a career writer, it's always a balance of creativity and marketability. I believe through trial and error we can find our sweet spot. That and a lot of hard work LOL. Thanks for stopping by!

Sarah J. McNeal said...

This was a marvelous blog, Kristy. Sometimes writers do have to dig deep to find a story and other times, the story just walks right into our consciousness. I particularly like the second. Digging deep can be emotionally painful, but the story must be told just the same. We bleed a little getting some stories out on the page. They aren't just stories to us, they are a part of us and our truth.
On the other hand, I've written some stories I wish I could go back and bury.
Loved reading this blog, Kristy. I wish you all the best of everything.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Thank you Sarah! I'm glad it struck a chord with you. Stories come at us in many different ways. :-)