the brink

Writing from The Brink

I recently attended a literary festival featuring the writer Hilary Mantel. In her keynote speech, she spoke about the writing life – its charms, idiosyncrasies and sometimes, pitfalls.  Near the end of her speech, Dame Mantel said something that I will remember forever: “When writing, what is ideal is that you feel your feet slipping from beneath you, a weightlessness- the brink is where you belong. The brink is where you belong.

This made my heart sing. The brink is indeed the place for writers:  where there is risk, suspension, will-she-fall-or-will-she-fly, the precipice of ecstatic delight that precedes a beautiful true sentence- the breathtaking agony of a character caught between two equally awful choices- that brink is what we must strive for in our poems, stories, and plays.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mantel’s words this week as I prepared to write this blog post, our very first writing post for this site- the home of our newly established magazine Bridge: The Bluffton Literary Journal. Indeed, with this venture, the brink is very much where we are.  The world has a lot of literary journals already, plenty of trees being pounded into mash for printing erasure poems and short experimental plays and lyrical essays and stories that make us feel more alive.  That’s a good thing, indeed. But then, what’s the point in this one?

You are.

Bridge started with a single, germinal idea that the literary voices of young writers deserve the same gravitas given to more established writers. We decided early on that we would only publish work by writers age 14-24 in Bridge.  This age range is indeed a bridge in and of itself- the chasm of creativity, inventiveness, daring, and raucousness that characterize adolescence as a time both distinct and vital.  So here we begin, at the brink with a fairly standard four-genre submission plan: fiction & nonfiction prose, short plays for stage and film, and poetry. But we  have plans in Fall 2017 to open our pages to artists working in mixed media, such as graphic literature, anime, manga, and poems that incorporate visual studio arts and new media.  Our plans for Spring 2018 include embracing emerging literacies through works that incorporate digital narratives. Our vision for Bridge is that we will edge closer to the brink with each issue.

The brink is where we belong.

So starting today- what better time to begin than now, after all?–each week, the community at Bridge will post a creative writing exercise or craft tip that you can use in your own work.

For this week, I’d like you to practice a guided freewrite about a character on the brink.  This character may be real, imagined, exist in a current story or the persona of a poem you’ve been turning over and over in your mind but haven’t quite scratched out on paper yet. Now, take that character and push her to the brink. Get him into trouble of his own design. Then – and only then- add more weight, more pressure, more obstacles, more stressors. Let the only decision your character can reasonably make backfire and send waves of obstacles through the rest of the story.  When your character is under pressure, lean harder. But get your character – or persona- backed right up to the 20th story window or that cliff above a gaping canyon. Light a match, and throw it into the haystack. Force your character to that brink and to make a decision – to take a risk- to change. Set a clock for fifteen minutes, and turn off all the distractions within your reach.

With that, we invite you to the brink, with us.

Yeah, it’s a little teeter-y and dangerous and frightening- but oh, what a breathtaking view. After all: the brink is where you belong.

Jamie Lyn Smith

Nov. 15, 2016

bridge@bluffton.edu