Use Negative Space to Focus on Writing
Negative stuff gets a bad rap. I have this set of pint-sized pub glasses in my cupboard, each one labeled “The Pessimist’s Glass” with a line that shows the exact middle of the container and the phrase, “This glass is now half-empty.” These are my favorite dishes in the house, and the only ones that remain unbroken by my children.
“The glass is now half-empty” is considered a negative statement in this “Power of Positive Thinking” culture of ours. I don’t have anything against positive thinking, except that sometimes it feels like entirely too much work without the bang for the buck. Negative space seems to be a more comfortable place for me, in both life and writing.
Negative Space = Positive Results
There are several articles out there about the fascinating hidden messages in popular logos. I love secret meanings in simple forms, but after viewing about fifty of the logos, I realize that many of them use the same concept in their “hidden” messages.
Case in point: take a look at the Hope for African Children Initiative logo:
Viewed one way, you see the continent of Africa. But viewed another way, you see an adult and a child looking at each other.
There are many examples of artwork like this, but I'm an artist with words, not pictures, so try these terms: What someone DOESN'T say is as important as what he or she says.
This applies in life in general, but also for those characters who live in your work. What are they saying – and not saying – that contrasts with their actions? How can you use what they don’t say to build tension in your story?
The Motivation of Negative Space
Recently at a Weight Watchers meeting – yes, I attend this very inexpensive form of weekly therapy with a few good friends of mine – the leader asked us, "What motivates you?"
And the searing honesty of my answer was fear and self-loathing. There are a lot of reasons for this that I won’t get into here, but at that moment of realization, I decided that I no longer wanted to be motivated by fear and self-loathing.
What would I be motivated by instead? I have no idea. But I recently made a decision to volunteer with the kids program in my church because the main hesitation I had involved fear. I don’t want to be motivated by fear. What if I volunteer with this program and it’s wonderful? I thought I would give it a try.
Questions to Take Advantage of Negative Space
I worked with a guy who once told me to make a "Do NOT List" - putting down on paper what tasks and projects I would avoid that day instead of making a to-do list. This is an amazing and valuable concept, helping to get the crud out of the way and allowing me to focus.
Just another example of the power of negative space: Knowing what you DON'T want to do is just as important as knowing what you want to do, in your writing life and in your “real” life.
In light of how negative space can produce positive results, consider these questions for your writing life:
What kind of writing do you NOT want to do?
What activities do you need to stop doing so that you can focus more on writing?
What is not working in your writing routine?
What is not working in your latest piece of writing?
What does one of your characters need to NOT say to contrast with his or her actions to create tension?
Empower yourself by inhabiting some negative space for a while, taking the emotion out situations and deciding what is not working.
Then you can figure out what works.
Bio: Kelly Wilson is a Portland, Oregon author and comedian who, according to the glasses in her kitchen cupboard, is a pessimist. She is the author of Live Cheap & Free, Don’t Punch People in the Junk, and Caskets From Costco, along with numerous articles and short stories for children and adults. Kelly Wilson currently writes for a living and lives with her Magically Delicious husband, junk-punching children, dog, and cat, with a stereotypical minivan in the garage. Read more about her at www.wilsonwrites.com
For twenty years, Kelly Wilson thought that she had been marching through the stages of grief in a straight line. She had been following the formula, crossing each processed grief experience off her list.
Except that Kelly was totally deluded. And she didn’t discover that until Jim, her beloved father-in-law, died. She found herself drying off from her shower the morning after his death, really hoping that he couldn’t see her naked. Or, if he could, that he was averting his eyes.
From that moment, Kelly's path through grief resembled a roller coaster, spiraling and twisting and turning, circling back around. Echoes of past trauma, including childhood abuse and cheating death, would no longer be ignored. She somehow needed to get from the beginning to the end of this grief adventure, and she doesn't have a good sense of direction.
But what is always present during a journey through grief, regardless of the path chosen?
Caskets From Costco is a funny book about grief that demonstrates the certainty of hope and healing in an uncertain and painful world.
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Genre - Memoir, Humor
Rating – PG-13
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