So I finally finished my novel The Mantle of God: a Dottie Manderson mystery, and it’s due out tomorrow (shameless plug), I’ve done most of the Christmas shopping, and so it’s the time of year when I sit back and think. Usually I think a wee bit too much, I’m very much an introverted overanalyser, like a lot of writers. I’m taking some time to read quite a bit now. One of my perennial favourites is Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer, first published 1934 (when my book is set, coincidentally, another shameless plug haha) but still a great read, and encouraging. In common with many others, she advocates writing exercises, such as morning pages. But the first exercise in the book is to observe yourself in a mirror and write what you see. On the surface, it’s an exercise in observation; for me in reality it is an exercise in confronting the self in honesty and acceptance. I began to reread Brande’s book this week.
And also this week, I found myself sitting in a cafe in town, actually not all that unusual, it’s practically a hobby for me. Opposite me in the cafe was a huge mirror, a bit like those places where it’s all positivity and mirrors, to reflect the light, make the place seem bigger, fuller, or more successful, a kind of feng sui for business. So I was sitting there stuffing my face and chewing my pen, wondering what to write and myopically became aware that a woman sitting opposite me was doing almost the same.
I’m confronted with myself, I eventually realise. It’s not a comfortable experience for me. I could do with being several stone lighter and twenty years younger, maybe three or four inches taller… It’s an odd sensation. The woman in the mirror looks very like me, except that she has her hair parted on the other side. She sits there and stares back at me almost in a challenging way, daring me to deny her right to be real. I look away. From a young age, it was ingrained in me that looking in the mirror would make me vain (which I am) and I should not do it. But there’s not a lot else to look at here, and also I’m intrigued. So I look back, and sure enough she’s looking at me again. She appears to be left-handed as she writes in her notebook, but of course, it’s me, and I’m not. This reminds me of another thing I once read about the left brain, right brain thing, and I remember how for a while to help the creative process, I used to write with my left hand. It was easier that way to pretend someone else was writing, and I felt freer, and wrote wiht a different ‘voice’. At the moment I’m looking for a way to revitalise and freshen my writing for the coming year, so I like to try new things. Maybe I’ll do a spot of left-handed writing and see where that takes me.
The woman in the mirror is like me, but different. Does she care what people think? Does she let her anxiety and fear kill her imagination or hold her back from striving to achieve more? She is like me but different. As I turn away from the window and the street beyond, she turns towards them. Then she drinks her coffee, I drink mine. I look at her one last time. I pick up my pen and begin to write. I do my writing, and she gets on with hers.