Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Writing Stories in a Family Community

While Liam was still at college, he and and I made plans to work on writing stories this summer. We both have trouble finishing stories that we start writing. Partly it’s because both of us get into “duty” mode where we start feeling there are more important/urgent/serious things to do than write fiction. Partly we are perfectionists and when the story gets long enough to have a few obvious flaws and difficulties, it discourages us. So Liam suggested that we make an accountability pact and agree to get together weekly and share progress and perhaps read bits to each other, thus maintaining a feeling of legitimacy and enthusiasm which hopefully will help carry us through the rough bits. HE got the idea from reading about how the Inklings — the small group of English scholars that included JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis in the circle — would meet in a pub and read their works in progress to each other.

Our first official meeting is the first week of June, which will give us time to put together ideas and plot and start writing. Hopefully. I thought I was completely stuck on ideas and then one night I started thinking and ideas started coming. So maybe I am just a bit rusty.
Today we were discussing how reading Brendan’s story is inspiring to us rather than discouraging. This is the book Brendan started writing when he was about 15. He finished it last fall and has been revising it. I have been printing out sections as he sends them up to me (his computer to mine via Local Area Network). Then I comb-bind them into readable volumes. Everyone looks forward to the new installments, to reading and discussing them.

While we were talking about this, I realized how many writers I have heard about who had a “community” of some kind in their formative years. Very often, it seems, it was a family community. Jane Austen started writing stories for her sister when she was sick, to cheer her up. The Bronte sisters, Charlotte and Emily and Anne, invented a whole imaginary world as children along with their brother Branwell. Many of those childish stories were the starting points of their classic novels. Louisa May Alcott’s father was a writer. CS Lewis and his brother also invented a world, of talking animals, in childhood and then as an adult formed the small community of the Inklings with his brother and a couple of friends. Tolkien, of course, ditto. GK Chesterton, another writer I admire, started a newsletter in his private school years with his brother and a couple of close friends that continued afterwards. He also co-wrote a couple of books with his friend Hilaire Belloc. The list goes on.

From what I’ve seen in our family, it’s natural for a close family who loves reading and has time to play imaginatively in younger years, to grow into a writing community. Brendan and Clare had their own imaginary animal world when younger and Brendan and Liam invented one that loosely overlapped. Brendan and Sean have their fantasy football league. Brendan and Clare and Liam all went through a stage when they issued newspapers from their imaginary worlds, interviewing fictional “men on the street” and editorializing with great vigor. Brendan’s newspaper run was the most comprehensive and also got the most sophisticated as he got into politics and disinformation and experimented satirically with totalitarian propaganda.

Brendan is working on a new book and welcoming feedback on his old one so he can write a third draft. Clare is working on a book, too and also engaged in RPGs at the Tolkien site Barrowdowns. Sean and Kieron both tell me they “can’t write” : (. Both wrote some immature stories in their younger years and Sean wrote a pretty good fictional sports commentary but they are at that age when they see the flaws in their juvenile work and don’t have the motivation to get to the next stage. We’ll see if there’s any way to get them into the writer’s community during this summer.

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