Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Writing: Self & Other - Helen Garner's Honest Approach

So when I sat down to start studying writing, I never thought that there would be SO MUCH that I didn't know. Of course I realised the whole point of studying was to learn and that I obviously didn't know it all already... let's just say that the direction the first couple of weeks took me was unexpected - to say the least!

I mentioned in a post last week about learning responsibility as an author, and how we rely on the other to exist. It gets pretty messy when you start trying to define it and think of it logically, but here I'll put it as simply as I can;

We, as a writer, can not exist without our subject. That is, it is our environment, interactions and relationships with all that is around us, that shape our writing, and thus our writing can not be subjective in this sense.

So it's still a pretty hazy statement right? I hope I got some of my message across. We looked into Helen Garner's writing. A little history here - Garner is an Australian author, a pretty damn good one by most accounts. She's published some four novels, four non-fiction books, three screenplays, three short story collections and various articles. The first piece of writing of Garner's that I read was her personal essay 'I' which can be read here. This essay discusses and explores the 'persona' that a writer creates when creating a piece of writing, be it fiction or non-fiction.

First of all, Garner's writing is different to anything that I have so far experienced. Not so much to read (she does write well) but the subject of her writing and how she writes. The fact that a lot of her works of non-fiction are so raw in the fact that she writes a no-holds-barred account of her experiences. Garner immerses herself in various situations and documents it to write about later. She tackles highly controversial topics, such as the death of a toddler at the hands of his stepfather, and a 1992 sexual harassment scandal at Ormond College. Her writing is different to anything I've considered - she openly declares that she writes based on who she is, what she knows and her experiences.

I think that this is what I am supposed to be getting from the course - that as a writer, everything we write, be it fiction, non-fiction, or supposedly subjective articles and such, is shaped primarily on our own experiences, beliefs and opinions. In each piece of writing we sit down and complete, we inject it with our own experiences and shade it with ourself. This is what I think we're supposed to take from these first few lectures. I think we're supposed to realise when we sit down to write, that we can't be totally subjective. Nothing we write doesn't have an effect on our readers.

I hope this post made some kind of sense after all that. Thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? I think that Garner's writing is unique in the fact that she writes based almost literally on her experiences, but I tend to agree that to less of an extent, the writing we do (however fiction it may be) still contains all of our self.


Thoughts are welcome in the comments!


6 comments:

  1. Well everything we do is somehow influenced by our experiences right? Our strongest thoughts, emotions, etc. come from what we've seen and done.

    When I first started writing (fiction and poetry), I found that always, my best works to share with my classmates were the ones that that something of me in there.

    Great post!

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    1. Thanks! Yeah this topic really got me thinking about how we write and how it represents us.

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  2. I think when you're passionate about the subject, your writing is more genuine and your experiences automatically produce that voice of integrity the reader wants to experience. It's the whole meaning behind the phrase, "write what you know" which to me is a bit restricting.

    You can write fiction about a serial killer and not be a murderer. With some research, it's possible to write many things. However, with experience, you have the added bonus of "self" in your delivery.

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    1. Ah, I think what you've done here Diane is captured why Helen Garner traveled across the globe to experience things to write about, even in fiction. It had actually astounded me, but now (thanks to you!) makes perfect sense :)

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  3. Thanks for sharing that essay. I had ever thought of writing in this way.

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    1. No worries! I had never thought of it from this point of view either - not until I had to! :P

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