I have discovered that there is a lot written about the process of writing. You should write what you know – no wait. You don’t have to be limited to writing what you know, but if you don’t write what you know, then you better do the research so you know what you’re talking about. But hold on a minute – don’t burden the reader with the voluminous details of your research – don’t let anything get in the way of the story. Unless of course you’re a James Michener, then you can get away with it.
I picked up a cute little maxim the other day – be yourself – unless you could be a unicorn. Then of course, be a unicorn. Right – you get what I’m saying here. If you could be James Michener, go for it.
You should always show, not tell. In the words of Anton Chekhov, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; Show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Holy take my breath away, Batman. That is genius – thank you Mr. Chekhov.
But wait – if all you do is show, the story might race ahead of the reader at such a pace that he or she never manages to get to that essential place of emotional connection. OK – you better do a bit of telling, too.
Be careful how you bring in the back story of your characters. You mustn’t let it get in the way of the present action. But wait – unless the reader understands your character’s motivations for doing what they’re doing – well – the story won’t really make any sense. So you better figure out a way to get some of that back story in.
First person, third person, omniscient narrator – point of view is the crux of the story. No wait – it’s all about the characters. No wait – plot drives the story. Holy lost in the steamy swamp, Batman. And lest you have yet to despair of ever getting this writing thing right, consider this: “The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” (Anaïs Nin). Thanks, Nin – that’s really encouraging.
Sometimes I feel as though I’m running through a tangled jungle, like I’m trapped in a scene from the movie, Apocalypse Now.
At the same time – I’m glimpsing patterns of light through the darkness – threads that have the possibility of coming together to create something I will feel proud of having brought to life.
Good thing. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”(Maya Angelou). Who needs that kind of burden?
“I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.”(Flannery O’Connor). Amen, Flannery.
My reading about writing turns out to be about knowing more, then doubting that I know more, and finally realizing that there is always more I’ll need to know. Writing takes courage. It doesn’t allow me to hide anywhere. I reveal myself, but the reward is that I might produce something that others will pick up and read and in so doing, find themselves revealed. They might ask – how did she know my story so well?
I know what writing it is for me – being lost for hours on end in a world of my imagining that feels more real at times than the actual world I inhabit. It’s easy to get weighed down under the combined load of all of the words written about what writing should be. I try to remember what Thomas Jefferson said: “In matters of style – swim with the current. In matters of principle – stand like a rock.”
The past two nights I have gone to sleep and dreamt of a scene in the sequel to Disappearing in Plain Sight. I wake up repeating to myself a little chunk of dialogue that is meant to represent an entire conversation between two of the characters, complete with setting and various character attributions – all worked out and perfect within the dream. I repeat this little piece of gold over and over as I awake, but soon the words seem like nonsense and then they simply disappear – like the proverbial poof of the genie as he or she slides back into the bottle. I know though, in that liminal time between dream and full awakening, I believed I had it all worked out and that those few words could help me remember everything – I could tug on that tiny line and the entire fabric of the scene would be pulled forward and shaken out in front of me like a crisply dried sheet fresh from the clothes line.
A writer must write. Whether it’s a flash story, short story, novella, novel, all the way up to an epic tome weighing in like War and Peace – a writer must write. Ernest Hemingway is credited with writing the shortest piece ever: Baby shoes – for sale. Never used. Talk about slamming the reader against a wall with six little words! Holy rip your guts out, Batman. Mr. Hemingway – we salute you.
“Your tale, sir, would cure deafness” (William Shakespeare, The Tempest – Act I – Scene II).
“Everything you can imagine is real.”(Pablo Picasso). And you better believe Picasso knew what he was talking about.
So go for it – imagine, find out what you don’t know and look for the answers. Discover that the more you find out the less you will think you know. Accept there is always more to know. And keep writing. A writer must write. Full stop!
Bruce and I posing in front of the Hemingway Cottage at the Billingsley Creek Lodge and Retreat in Hagerman, Idaho. Apparently, Hemingway spent whole summers in this cottage, writing. When he wasn’t out taking advantage of what Hagerman has to offer in the way of fishing!