“Stories let us find the lesson.
They don’t demand a particular one.
You pick the meaning you are ready for.”
~ Art Jones
I started writing late in life. Like, way past qualifying as one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35.” There were periods – recognitions for stories in elementary school, poems coming thru me unbidden as I processed a painful divorce, works in college that earned praises like ‘platonic ideal.’ And yet, it took realizing I’d lost my Voice to deliver me to a writing circle where I discovered what being a writer is. Where I learned to let go of control, follow the work and be surprised. Where I was encouraged to stick with it, and finally asked the right questions to learn my craft. That led me to write books.
Letting go was even part of my process with “The Writer’s Block Myth.” I gathered supporting materials and conducted interviews without judgement, expectation, critique, or organizing. Saw it all dovetail and fall seamlessly into place, in desired order (something I wrote about here).
I’m not saying writing is easy. Only that there’s wisdom in the process beyond the limits of our imaginations. That having a beeline to our imagination is the beginning.
So, whether we outline, hold strong intention, or write as a pantser like me, who rarely knows beyond a loose framework ’til I’m in it, trusting the work gives us more to create with. Because the work has a life of its own.
Let me tell you a story how I know. I believed my novel done when I sat down to compose a log line, the one-liner that starts ‘This book is about. . .” Before I wrote one word beyond those four, I heard the little voice: ‘You don’t know what this book is about.’ I leaned back in my chair, didn’t go on. I wrote 10,000 more words in the novel. Allowed the second protagonist to have her full say. And not ’til then was the book Done. Not ’til then did I see the real & full story revealed.
This process of following the story can be dramatic. One day my husband walked thru the room where I was writing, saw me crying. Why was I crying, he wanted to know. ‘This is so beautiful,’ I said. ‘But you’re the writer. You know how it ends,’ he said. ‘I didn’t know this,’ I told him. ‘She wasn’t in the room where I thought she’d be.’ That scene is still one of my favorites, where even my editor cried on reading it.
Did I mention, yet, that it’s fun writing this way?
I believe memoir (story of memory) is like this, too. The memories like characters in our minds with voices, feelings, and ways they lived during moments of time.
Recently I heard actor and voice-over artist Cameron Gregg in an interview. His words sent a shock of recognition thru me:
All art is selection and arrangement.
Shift perspective. Give new meaning to the human condition, and insight into the different forms human condition can take. Help knit that story together. Think, what is the singular thing that happened in their (a character) life that made them who they are?
My gosh, Yes. In Life, too. Now more than ever.
We’re always in the works we create. We’re documentarians who can’t disappear in the photo or film, our position and person is revealed. Like Ken Burns who says all his work is about waking the dead. That he knows the story he’s retelling is waking his mother who he never saw out of bed before she died when he was a boy. Or in my novel, my retelling a part of my childhood, and connecting to nature, something I love deeply. In life, it’s how we select and arrange memories, pain points, intentions, ideas, beliefs, biases, name it, creating a lens we see the world thru, from which we tell our stories.
All to say what I know writing and life is – showing what it is to be human. That words are important. Observing with awareness is critical to being present. And writing is connection, period. Writers are powerful. Here, said much better by author Richard Bausch. The last sentence the bottom line:
“We think too much about the meaninglessness of existence; we have taken in the idea of life as an absurd proposition, and all our suffering becomes ridiculous. But a writer senses meaning in ‘the mystery of things,’ and reports about the discoveries that come from merely setting narrative in motion, letting people move and breathe and be in the prose, and that is what finally connects us all, across time and distance and the grave itself. We are about SHOWING the human journey as itself, what Conrad meant when he said that above all he wanted to make us SEE. Wanted to make us feel the ‘solidarity of the human family.’ This is why it’s such important work, what Bill Maxwell in a letter to me called ‘this blessed occupation.’ So the reward is in the act itself, of giving forth meaning through expression in this miraculous way, with words. Our coin, our spark and music, the bread of our daily existence. It isn’t work, so much as it is the central element of our nature: our beautiful tending toward expression. Set it into motion again, friends. It’s what we have against the dark—no less than that.”
Everything he says, + we never know who our words will touch, or when. That quote at the top is by my husband. He read little fiction until one Christmas 15 yrs. after I claimed being a writer. That Christmas he asked for a novel. I bought him a short stack of novels and short stories. Now he shares what he reads with me. He didn’t read my novel “Flight” until 8 yrs. after it was done. He carried it to work with him, not wanting to miss a thing. He didn’t read my blog for two years. Now he comments, and subscribed to get it in his inbox. We never know.
It’s the holiday season. The greatest time ever for stories, both personal and seasonal. I admit, some days I’m in the midst of the muck. And my wish remains, now and always, we all live and love our best creative life. It’s what we have against the dark.
- Set up a bag, box, or container you enjoy looking at in a place where you see it easily and often. If you’re working on a story or project, put whatever you come across that may apply in it. Do not edit, critique, or consciously think about it once it’s tucked away. If you’re not working on something specific, put quotes, paragraphs, and whatever touches you in your container. Two-four-six weeks later, pull it all out. Prepare to be surprised as you see what stories and threads show up. For your work, and for you life.
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