Teva Harrison is an artist, writer and cartoonist. She is the author of the bestselling, critically-acclaimed hybrid graphic memoir, In-Between Days, published by House of Anansi Press. The book was a national bestseller, shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction and named a best book of the year by The Globe and Mail, The National Post, CBC, iBooks, KOBO, The Walrus and Quill & Quire. Numerous health organizations have invited her to speak publicly on behalf of the metastatic cancer community. She lives in Toronto.
Teva adapted the guest post below from her March 11 talk at Brockton Writers Series, entitled “Breaking the Constraints of Form: There Are Many Ways to Tell a Story”. Thanks, Teva!
Breaking with Form
I draw and paint. That’s the primary form my work has taken in the past, but I had an idea that required a different form. Rather than try to shoehorn my idea into big narrative paintings, I listened to the idea and allowed it to take the form that best suited it: a book.
So, I’d like to challenge you to do the same.
Do you usually write short stories, but an idea just won’t take form? Maybe it’s actually a poem, and rather than build it up, you need to pare it down.
Or are words both too much and not enough for a feeling you hope to convey? This can be exactly where pictures can say more than words alone. Pictures add a visceral quality, and we react to images differently than words. This can be a useful tool for a creator.
These questions can lead us to break form, to step outside of our comfort zone, to reach and stretch and find the form that will, with the most truth we can muster, tell a story that only we can tell.
How do you think of yourself? Are you a poet? A novelist? A journalist? Have you ever had an idea that you couldn’t wrestle into shape? Have you ever considered going back to that idea and asking it, what are you? What are you trying to be?
It might be that your poem is really a short story, that your essay is really a poem, or that your short story is the fifth chapter of a novel. It might be that you’re actually writing a play and you need audio to allow your idea to reach its potential. To answer these questions, you have to trust and listen to the work, to allow form to follow function, not the other way around.
I mean, I’m an artist who found herself writing a book because once begun, that was the only form that made sense, and I had to nurture it into being. I had to let go of what I thought I was (an artist) in the interest of being true to the idea and the form it needed to take shape.
So I invite you to open your heart to other forms of writing, to invite in visual collaboration if drawing isn’t a thing you do, to allow your ideas to dictate form to you, whether it’s letting illustrations into your margins or up-ending your entire practice.
Even if the experimentation doesn’t make the final cut, even if it comes out precious and you have to cut it, that paring down will make your final piece more clear, incisive, delicious. Most of writing is invisible, so is most of drawing. But it’s the foundation that lifts a few choice words or images up and into the reader’s reach.
Check back in May for more tips from our next Brockton Writers Series guest speaker–-and before that, see you at our next event: May 10, 2017, 6:30pm, at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto!