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.
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.