Oh, dear—even the idea of a grammar post about past participle at Christmas is enough to put the scrooge in any writer.
So take heart! This isn’t about grammar! I see all things horribly technical about writing fleeing up the Christmas tree and being burned away by the star. Which in fairy-tale speak means the energy is turned into something else, something better.
A useful thing for writers, indeed.
Because you know that cliché writers often repeat—I don’t like to write, but love having written (yikes! A past participle). The quotes about that are endless, and attributed to, well, just about every writer who’s ever written.
Especially when you’re in the slog of it, writing can be excruciatingly painful. And yes, once done, the ‘having written’ part feels oh-so-fabulous. And hopefully, without the “I bet this is crap” part.
Then again, that last follows writers around like a beheaded cockroach that never dies. Writer’s doubts are part and parcel of the gene that causes one to dive into this endeavor to begin with.
But no talk of that at Christmas! We’re not scrooges here.
Although wasn’t that Ghost of Christmas Past an interesting dude. I mean, love the cap. It’s a magical cap, no? And alchemy has special significance for writers.
Scrooge wants to put on that cap (the why of which seems a mystery. Nice foreshadowing :), but Mr. Ghost protests. He says that donning the cap will “extinguish” it (suppress the memories).
And isn’t that the funny thing about memories? You repress them, and they tend to ooze out in nasty little ways (zombies and vampires and werewolves, oh my!). Mr. Ghost says that those memories have to be faced rather than stuffed. Otherwise, you end up like, well, Scrooge in the present tense.
What does this have to do with writing?
Oh, just about everything. As writers, we draw on the depth of our experiences and memories (the ‘having lived’ of our pasts), whether penning fiction or most forms of narrative nonfiction. It’s from that deep well of remembrance that our best writing emerges, even if we’re not Proustian in bent.
Scrooge repressed his god-awful memories so long (which turned him into, well, Scrooge) that it took a supernatural force to make him face them.
You, as a writer, know that feeling, no? It’s what writer’s block is all about. When we just can’t coax one single solitary ephemeral gem to flee from our fingers onto the page.
And we need something supernatural to wake us back up, like a kiss from Snow White’s prince. Or Bluebeard’s Key, which won’t stop bleeding all over us.
Once we’ve been doing this for a bit, we identify that mystical force for what she is—the Muse.
She (or he) comes barreling in when we’re steeped in the throes of our story, and scenes pop up on the page we never even knew existed. We may find our main character was responsible for something heinous in childhood (who knew!), and have no idea where any of this came from.
Those are almost always the most powerful points of the story, and seem to have written themselves.
Which, they kinda did. From that deep well of the subconscious springs our best work. And, it also turns our stories and characters in different directions—and ones we never could have plotted out. At least with any verisimilitude.
But the Muse knows all those ghosts of the past. And how to excavate them.
Because that’s when you know you’re really writing; that’s where all the magic lies.
And that’s the beauty of the Ghost of Christmas Past’s cap. Because in the end, it can’t be snuffed out like a candle, can it. Even when that cap is plunked squarely on said Ghost’s head, tiny shards of memory light still seep from the bottom.
Which in fairy tales just means you can’t extinguish it altogether; that memories have lives of their own.
And as Proust knew, remembrances exist for writers to use.
So this Christmas, I send to you the Ghost of Christmas Past, with his magical trove of memories from which you can create the most luscious stories.
And I’ll add in the Participle so you’ll be pleased with what you have written.
But also, I send you the absolute joy of creation, and more to the point, of creating, so you feel the magic as you’re writing, and not just after having written.
So have a very merry holiday, and I’ll catch you in the New Year!
And to mix literary metaphors because it’s the holiday season and all rules are off and the child in me can do anything I want:
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”