All About Indie Issue 20: Metempsychosis



All About Indies

By Harmony Kent

Scraping Clean


‘Books are the true metempsychosis,—they are the symbol and presage of immortality.’
Henry Ward Beecher

The written word endures long after the life that penned it. And, if the words are good, they are likely to become a contagion—jumping from mind to mind to mind. As well as offering a chance at immortality, they can also provide an opportunity for growth and development. A fresh start. We can take an old idea and give it new life. Make it into something that is uniquely us.

I love the idea of palimpsests. To scrape clean and use again. When things seem set in stone and immutable, it is worth remembering that even something as benign and fluid as water can wear away the most solid of rock. Actually, the only truly immutable thing in life is change.

Change is the only thing that doesn’t change.

What does all this mean for us as writers? While published prose may well be perpetual, our imaginations continue to flow and change and adapt. Each and every moment offers a chance at resurrection. Each and every moment gives us the opportunity for all good things to find rebirth while letting go of all that is negative or serves no purpose.

Just because we wrote something ten years ago, it doesn’t mean that our views or perspective will remain the same today. Indeed, that would be highly unlikely. In the interim, life happened. Experience happened. Rebirth happened. We’re the same yet not the same.

As an author, I love that flexibility and metamorphosis. It calls to my creativity. Since childhood, I’ve had a fascination with butterflies. While caterpillars used to freak me out, and I found the chrysalis stage disgusting, the emergence of the butterfly always filled me with a sense of magic. Anything was possible. And look what beauty came from something that I found so utterly awful.

The only mistake we can make as writers is to limit ourselves. We can write anything we want … that’s the only rule. And, at this stage of creation, we absolutely must not write for anyone else. What X, Y, or Z think is completely irrelevant at this stage. No editing allowed. Just write. Behind your pen (or keyboard), you can become anything and anyone you want. No limits.

A good exercise to develop this free-flow is stream-of-consciousness writing. You set yourself a time limit—let’s say five minutes—and then you write without stopping. Your pen cannot leave the paper. Your fingers cannot stop hitting those keys. You don’t stop to reread what you’ve written. You don’t judge or assess it. You just write. Plenty of time later for the tweaking.

Try and do some free-flow writing at least once a day. Even though, at first, it may feel impossible, and you may hate what you’ve produced, the old adage of ‘practice makes perfect’ holds true here. The important thing isn’t what you’ve written, or how good or bad it is, but just the act of writing without thinking.

When you do that, you sit in the here and now. Nothing from the past can hold you back. You’re not distracted by what may happen in the future. And the present offers infinite freedom.

You can base your free-flow on anything at all. It can be about your day so far. Or a picture you’ve come across. Perhaps a newspaper or magazine article. A line from a book … anything. If you use something that someone else has produced, you are taking an idea and making it your own. Turning it into something uniquely you. Scraping clean and using again.

One idea bleeds into another and overwrites it. That’s how memories work, too. An essential element of being human is that the past is a palimpsest. We accumulate later knowledge, which obscures earlier memories and views. And it doesn’t matter what was on the parchment originally. We can always make better mistakes tomorrow.

What does matter is that we don’t quit. A large part of a writer’s day is to look straight at the world, which includes looking squarely at ourselves. And, it is more than possible to learn to be a critical thinker without having a critical heart. Our imaginations can make use of everything. The same water that hardens the egg softens the potato. That’s just a fact of life. One isn’t better than the other.

The new year is a natural time to think about fresh starts and new paths. However, we don’t have to wait a whole twelve months to effect change. Each breath in is a new moment. A chance to hit the reset button and pause. Then we can get going again, and the direction can be completely different.

With palimpsests in mind, it’s a good idea to keep everything you write, especially from your free-flow exercises. No matter how poor you think it is, you just never know. One day, it might be just the springboard you need. It might bleed into bigger and better ideas. Of course, if you’ve written a tirade about someone in a fit of pique, and there’s a chance they might discover it, then treat my advice of not throwing anything away with caution!

Once you’ve found your flow—your freedom—then the editing can begin. Now is the time for the rewriting and reworking. This is when a whole slew of rules kicks in. However, take care not to get bogged down. Don’t destroy that hard-earned creativity.

Remember, each moment is a new moment. A fresh start. You don’t need to judge what you came up with in the past (even if that past is mere seconds ago). All you have to do is see. To look at it straight. Once you can see your writing from this clear and unencumbered viewpoint, you can do a much better job of polishing and refining it.

When we approach our work in this way, we open up the potential for the birth of yet more ideas. In whittling down the stuff we’re not so happy with, we allow the brilliance to shine in all its glory. So, whether it’s a pristine white page or a much-erased and crumpled scrap, we can make something new from it, or resurrect something old and give it a rebirth. We achieve a miracle: Moment-by-moment metempsychosis.