Writing is a solitary occupation. No-one else can express the thoughts inside your head or the feelings in your heart. It has to come from you. The quotation is true, ‘There is no handle on the outside of your heart. It has to be opened from within.’ Writing gives the opportunity to open that door marked ‘Private’.
This may sound contradictory, having said that writing is a solitary occupation, but it doesn’t have to be accomplished alone. Yes, it is only you who can do the writing, but others can help you find within yourself what to say and how to say it.
In our writing retreat, our little group of three found we could work together to find the key. We opened our hearts to each other as we walked in the countryside or talked by the fire. Then, having opened that door from the inside, we each began to coax out some of the precious images waiting to be revealed. Still a gradual process, we gave ourselves space and time to work alone, to research and write and edit as we chose before coming together again to share the results.
Not everything we wrote is ready to be published: some of it is still marinating, some is not for strangers’ eyes, but our week away began to bear results. We were getting back in the swing of it. We were writing again.
For one of our ten-minute free-writing prompts, What Made You Laugh?, I wrote a flash fiction piece. Bearing in mind the idea is to write without planning or careful thinking, to just get something down on paper, I was delighted with the result …not because it was a great story, not because it was well told …but I was writing again. That’s what mattered.
What Made You Laugh?
It was the girl who had to stand, swaying with the movement of the train. Clearly there were no gentlemen aboard.
She was holding the strap above her head with one hand and the brown-paper-covered book she was reading in the other.
It started as a tiny, muffled chuckle which she quickly stifled. But it refused to be suppressed and built inside her with each sentence she read. I was watching and could see her shoulders shake and the little bubbles of laughter popping in her throat. I started to smile.
When the next giggle broke through her defenses, I saw it coming and felt it build in my chest in sympathy. This time she couldn’t hold it in at all and gave up trying. What started as a giggle grew into a full-blown, throw-your-head-back laugh, making me laugh along with her. I had no idea what she was reading: no clue what was the joke.
Someone sitting across from me started smiling, a chuckle escaped from someone else. As the girl’s laughter was brought back under control, we all settled down and resumed whatever rumination we’d previously been engaged in. But she couldn’t resist the next sentence she read and, once more, her laughter resisted restraint.
The bubble in my own chest hadn’t quite settled, and popped again. The lady opposite joined me, nudging her neighbour who laughed too. We lost it. The ripple of laughter travelled the length of the carriage, its magic touching someone else every now and then. They infected others until the girl on the train had the whole carriage laughing, really laughing. The kind you just can’t keep in. It breaks out in unmeasured quantity, uncontrollable and satisfying. You don’t need to know what’s funny any more. Laughing is what’s funny. It just feels so good.
The girl smiled and waved as she stepped off the train at the next stop, leaving everyone laughing and smiling, talking to their neighbour whether they knew them or not. In her hand, she waved the book. Tolstoy’s War and Peace.