Find Yourself and The Story Will Find You
Author, GrubStreet instructor and teaching fellow Simone Dalton shares her journey moving from self-doubt to self-knowledge. You can learn more about this subject in Simone's upcoming seminar The Self, The Writer and The Story on February 12th.
How do writers nurture their practice in spite of self-doubt?
How do writers serve the needs of their stories and not the needs of their egos?
How do writers honor their vision and purpose?
When I began asking myself these questions in May 2021, I was not ready. I was in the midst of revising my memoir manuscript with a goal of getting a new draft to my agent by the end of the summer.
In pondering the answers, my mind became a seam ripper, picking at the stitches of my story. My inner critic showed up, unvaccinated, and announced she was staying for a while. As I exposed the raw edges of the book, a revelation appeared among the fray. I had been using my narrator to hide, exchanging her self-knowledge for my self-control. I had been performing the most palatable version of myself. I had been writing from a place of fear.
I had been using my narrator to hide, exchanging her self-knowledge for my self-control. I had been performing the most palatable version of myself. I had been writing from a place of fear.
Writers of literary nonfiction, in particular, are asked to attend to:
- The internal: What are the desires of the protagonist? What are the conflicts she faces?
- The external: Why now? What is happening? Or, what has happened?
- The universal: What are the concerns (e.g. philosophical, social, or psychological) being asked by the writer?
Writers have to be present, patient, and still to do the work of attending to those needs in service of our stories. And while doing all these, they must be kind to themselves. It is deep, often uncomfortable work.
Writers have to be present, patient, and still to do the work of attending to those needs in service of our stories.
One morning later that spring I went for a walk in the rain. A downpour as somber as my mood slowed to a drizzle. I left the apartment with no fixed address in mind, content to surrender my feet to the washed streets.
A neighborhood cafe pulled me in, pushed me out almost as quickly with a guava jam and cheese croissant and an oat milk latte to wash down my no-new-pages guilt. A park was next. There I was alone. At a drenched fir, I stood in the belly of a raindrop as it gripped the end of a pine needle with a watery finger. A liquid body stretched by gravity’s pull. Present. Patient. Still.
I knew then that I had to begin again and go within to find what the story needed.
I took out my phone and wrote a love note: self, writer, story.
The note was a call for help that opened me up to receive guidance in the form of a writing mentor in Jenny Heijun Wills and words from writers such Bonnie Friedman, whose book Writing Past Dark attends to the “emotional side of the writer’s life.” I wrapped myself up in the opening stanza of Love After Love by the poet Derek Walcott. Found direction in Kiese Laymon’s strategy of dealing with the “block.”
And re-committed myself to this from Audre Lorde:
“When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision—then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” (The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action)
As the season of snapdragons and dahlias neared to a close, I wanted to share what I had been learning with others, especially other writers of color. So I turned that love note to myself into a course for writers where care comes before craft. A brave space that provides kinship, so that they can tap into the joy of language, while acknowledging that it is a head and heart exercise.
I did not make my end of summer goal, but I did submit a new draft by Thanksgiving. The best part was giving myself the ability to receive the questions at the beginning of this post and be on an intentional journey towards the answer.
Check out Simone's upcoming Online: Zoom seminar The Self, The Writer and The Story on February 12th.
Simone Dalton is a writer, social change communicator, arts educator, and recipient of the 2020 RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Prize for nonfiction. She holds an MFA from the University of Guelph. Her work is anthologized in Black Writers Matter, winner of the 2020 Saskatchewan Award for Book Publishing and The Unpublished City: Volume I, finalist for the 2018 Toronto Book Awards. In 2019, her play VOWS was produced for RARE Theatre’s Welcome to My Underworld. Born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, Simone established a foundation to support education for young steelpan artists and creatives. As a memoirist, she explores themes of grief, inherited histories, race, class, and identity. She is currently working on her first book, which contemplates the question: what remains when one loses one’s mother?See other articles by Simone Dalton