First you create – then you craft – or do you do both at once?

Come writers and critics – Who prophesize with your pen – And keep your eyes wide – The chance won’t come again – And don’t speak too soon – For the wheels still in spin – And there’s no tellin’ who – That it’s namin’ – For the loser now – Will be later to win – For the times they are a-changin’    (The Times They are A-Changing – Bob Dylan)

I just want to say a word about the Auto-Instructional Text in Correct Writing – first, second and any other issue that might have come along. It’s about as auto-instructional as a text that might tell you how to do brain surgery on yourself. With the spine barely cracked, there’s a reason this book has sat untouched on my bookshelf for so long.

Having said that – my experience of working with an editor, line by line through my novel, tells me in no uncertain terms that a grasp of correct writing is a must and at long last I am motivated enough to learn. With this motivation, examples from my own writing, and an excellent teacher, I have been able to pull out the auto-instructional text and actually learn something. Though it is slow going and I have a lifetime of bad habits to correct.

We are proceeding with the editing process – my editor is editing and sending detailed notes. I am making the needed corrections and taking copious notes, referring to the text and trying to get this stuff to sink in. Then I work two chapters ahead of the editing, putting what I’ve learned into effect. I have a long way to go, but a faint glimmer of a light has come on.

I’m not sure if it’s my age or this creating and crafting process, but I am constantly humbled at the manner in which I can state something one day, feeling fairly confident, and then with equal confidence, retract that same opinion the next day. For example – when I realized the novel would need such an overhaul in terms of correct language usage I wasn’t all that perturbed. I think I even said, “Well, that’s no big deal. You can always get someone to help you with stuff like that. It’s the ability to imagine the story, to create the characters and the various jams they get themselves into, which really matters to me.”

I’m relieved I didn’t proclaim my thoughts too far and wide (though I realize I am doing that now – but with insight all a writer’s arrogance is cannon fodder) because, I now understand these thoughts to be ridiculous. Creating and crafting are two sides of the same coin. If you can’t adequately express your thoughts, with clarity and an awareness of what the written language can accomplish, then you aren’t releasing your true creative power.

This reminds me of a short story I read some time ago by Timothy Findley called, A Bag of Bones, from a book of short stories entitled, Dust to Dust. Don’t quote me on the exact details – but the story went something like this. There’s a husband and a wife, both of whom are published authors, though their individual styles could not be further apart. She would write frantically in the downstairs den – producing scads of pages per day. Her desk and all the surfaces in the room were littered with overflowing ashtrays and plates of left-over food. Manuscript pages were coffee-stained and scattered about. He, on the other hand, worked in an upstairs space, which was faultlessly neat – not a paper out-of-place and no coffee allowed in the room at all. He produced four or five superbly crafted sentences over the course of the entire day. They would come together in the evening for dinner and over copious amounts of wine, discuss their daily progress. I can’t remember if there was a respect for one another’s distinct style in these discussions – but it seems that these two writers represent the extreme ends of the spectrum that creating and crafting could represent.

The main point of the story, in my opinion, is that they both published. I suspect she had to do some crafting while she created and he obviously was creating as he crafted and they probably both took about the same amount of time to complete a given work of equal length. But don’t quote me on this opinion because I may recant tomorrow!

Buddha & Angel

Inspirational Garden Art

Feel the fear but do it anyway – Let the story go

I often write with CBC radio podcasts streaming on my laptop for background noise. Now and then something grabs my attention. The other day a few words jumped out at me and I jotted them down along the margin of a page of editing notes: No matter what you’re trying to create – if you’re not scared you’re not really doing it.

graveyard angel

Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan graveyard where my great-grandparents are buried

Those two phrases capture one of the bitter pills a writer must swallow – the fear of letting the story go – sending it out into the world where people will judge it and evaluate it and horrors of all horrors, maybe not even get it. That is quite the scary prospect. I find myself screaming inside – not my story – my baby – my problem child as I referred to Disappearing in Plain Sight the other day to my editor.

There is no way around this dilemma, though. If I want my work to have meaning then other people will have to see it. French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur wrote extensively about hermeneutics – the art of interpreting written text. He tells us that the act of fixing anything in text is the beginning of that text’s journey away from the meanings the original author may have intended. The text is freed from the one who created it and the time and context in which it was created and enters the field of interpretation. When I realize that what he describes will happen to me with every word I write, I cringe and want to shy away from ever allowing my text to go free. But this act of creating, telling a story, fixing a story in the written form is not just a hobby – it is a need – something that becomes an imperative. There is just this story and it must be told.

We really can’t help but tell our stories. This is true even if we never commit a single story to the written word. As human beings we just seem to have this driving urge to tell and understand stories as a way of making sense of the world we live in. Telling a story lets us drag the threads of our life backward in reflection and then forward as we construct new ways of being and interacting. Richard Kearney (2002) writes that telling stories is as basic to human beings as eating – more so because while food makes us live; stories are what makes our life worth living. And the amazing thing about all of this is that each story needs to be told. Each becomes a bell echoing and echoing out and past the storyteller – to influence and change every person that hears it and yes – this includes even those who don’t like my work – they too are changed in some way.

I know I must let the story go. The story must move beyond me. Interpretation – getting it – is the work of the reader, not the writer. I will do all that I can to facilitate the interpretations, the understandings, and the connections that I want readers to make, but ultimately the reader chooses the light of insight that will shine from the story – if indeed they find a light at all. No one will ever understand my story from the inside the way I do – but that’s OK. That’s the way it should be. Each reader will understand through the lens of their own unique story. In this way – my story – my baby – will bounce around leading others to all kinds of thoughts and places I could never have imagined – and the true power of story will be released.

Kearney, Richard. (2002). On Stories. NY: Routledge

Kearney, Richard. (2007). Paul Ricoeur and the hermeneutics of interpretation. Research in phenomenology, 37. 147-159.