Objects and items from our lives that have meaning for us can provide inspiration for some great life writing and we'll be looking at the power of 'life souvenirs' in my series of life writing workshops in February.
I wrote in an earlier blog about Susie, a doll my Mom had when she was a child. Susie accompanied Mom through her entire life and kept Mom company in private hospital care during the last months that she was with us. When I look at Susie, who now resides with me, a flood of memories come back about Mom.
I recently watched a series of documentaries entitled 'Titanic: Stories from the Deep' which featured various artifacts recovered from Titanic and the stories behind them.
Thousands of items have been salvaged from this luxury ocean vessel and pride of the White Star Line that struck an ice berg in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic and sank in the early hours of 15 April 1912.
One of the most impressive was the recovery, conservation, and restoration of a set of the ship's massive whistles. The two forward funnels were each fitted with a set. The whistles were like organ pipes and steam operated, giving off a sound that was somewhat melodic and very loud. Apparently when at sea, the whistles were tested every day at noon and were used in port when tugboats were maneuvering the ship.
Of course everyone wondered if the whistles would actually work again and after some serious restoration by professionals, by golly, they did.
At a public event in St. Paul Minnesota in 1999, in front of a crowd of thousands, the whistles blew again, twice, for the first time since - most likely - that fateful night in 1912 when Titanic sank to the bottom of the sea. They will never sound again as the stress on them could cause irreparable damage.
With all of the poignant and tragic history surrounding the demise of this great ship and the deaths of over 1500 people aboard, listening to the sounding of the whistles was an emotional experience even for me, sitting in front of my TV.
It was a mournful cry from a once magnificent ship, a voice of pain and anguish from the bottom of the sea, the sound of the ship now long gone but never forgotten in the annals of storytelling. It may have been one of the last sounds people heard that terrible night, so many of whom lost their lives in one of the world's greatest seafaring tragedies.
My Mom's Susie does not carry the weight of a tragedy like the Titanic story, but nonetheless it holds many memories for me and has been the inspiration behind much of the writing I've done about my Mom.
And you don't need a life souvenir the size of those gigantic whistles either to inspire your writing.
Something as small as a gold ring or a silver hat pin may do.
“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.” - William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
You see? Even William Shakespeare had something to say about self-doubt and the threat it poses to our creativity. American writer Suzy Kassem goes a step further saying, 'Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.'
Are you getting the message? Don't you want to look in the mirror and see the King of the Jungle looking back at you?
Doubting our ability to write is a real downer and it can plague and hound us relentlessly, making us wonder why in the heck we ever chose to write a single word and spent more than even a millisecond of our precious time bothering.
Doubt is that wicked little critter that hangs out on your shoulder while you're writing, whispering its evil notions into your ear: 'Hmm, are you sure that's good enough?' or 'People are going to think that writing is stink. Why are you bothering? You'll make a fool of yourself.' And before you know it, all of this mindless wittering has undermined your confidence, courage, inspiration and motivation and you slouch away from your writing desk in a blue funk, beaten and demoralised.
Our doubts are generated by many things and I'll deal with three of them here and suggest what you can do to combat them.
1. Lack of confidence: keep writing and don't stop
Even the most experienced writers get the wobbles every now and then. It comes with the territory. As with most things, the more you do it, the greater your confidence will be. Remember when you were learning to ride a bike? You kept falling off and crashing into things but you persevered and voila! One day you took off into the sunrise of a new day on wheels. So keep writing, don't stop. The more you write the greater your confidence.
2. The wicked little self-doubt critter: kick it out the door
That's the one sitting on your shoulder. You can almost see it when you look at yourself in the mirror. Sweep it off like a piece of lint, onto the floor and then kick it out the door. We don't have time or space in our writing lives for the nasty little naysayer. Shut it down. Don't listen.
3. No one will want to read my stuff: yes they will
I say, 'who cares?' Write what you want to write because in the first instance, it's always about you: write what interests you, what attracts you, what piques your curiosity. Explore a topic or your own emotions, research an historical time and place or your own family closet of rattling skeletons. The world is overflowing with beauty, richness, glory, sadness, violence, love, hate, joy ... and I would almost bet money on it that people will want to read what you have to say.
Another great way to dispel those feelings of doubt is to hang out with other writers who have probably experienced the same thing. My Write-Ins provide a relaxed and reassuring space to talk to things through, share and support each other and of course, do some writing.