I’ve been struggling with my writing lately. I’m working on a story set in the Hokianga in the 1950’s, based on true events that I am reshaping. Reimagining. I wasn’t there, obviously.
James George (mentor): This is the strongest opening to any of the stories so far. Has real punch, and the economy, almost flatness of style really allows the implications to burn.
My mentor’s comments are encouraging, yet I’m still having a hard time working on it. I sent the opening to Nadine (Hura) who said: ‘I got chills reading it. I got the feeling I wanted to look away but I couldn’t stop reading.’ I replied that my writing often makes people uncomfortable, and she said ‘Do you feel resistance writing these subjects?’ Which is something I hadn’t even considered… that the countless ways I distract myself from sitting my ass down in the chair and writing aren’t always down to simple laziness and lack of motivation. That perhaps the themes in this particular story are difficult for me to face.
I’m surprised I didn’t consider this question of internal resistance myself, earlier. I’ve written before about subjects that are personally painful, like teen suicide. It never occurred to me that this could be challenging. It’s a curious blind spot.
I’m reminded of a printmaking class years ago, with the incredible artist and teacher Marty Vreede who talked about how there is a pain threshold when making art, that you have to push through. And that one often isn’t aware of what the art is really about until the fullness of time reveals it later.
There was a quote that resonated with me during my art school days, written about the artist and my whanaunga, Ralph Hotere, and I’m paraphrasing here because Google isn’t helping. Something like ‘The meaning of suffering was the genesis.’ This holds resonance again for me now, especially as JG pointed out a biblical undercurrent in my current story.
I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I do know that I have to fight through my internal resistance, and shut down any and all negative self-talk. Be kind to myself. This is brave work. Fuck Imposter Syndrome. I’ve cut the booze back which helps. I’m present and clear-headed, mostly. Now I’m gonna sit my ass down in the chair and push the words out, one by one. And hope that it will all mean something, in the end.
Colleen Maria Lenihan (Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi) is a photographer. Upon returning to NZ in 2016 after fifteen years in Tokyo, she began writing short stories. In 2017, Colleen received an Honourable Mention for the NZSA Lilian Ida Smith Award, and a scholarship from The Creative Hub and Huia Publishers. She is thrilled to be selected for Te Papa Tupu 2018.