What do you see when you close your eyes at night? When the world, gravely still in its slumber, no longer lingers on your doorstep, where is it that you go? The writing life has charming aspects, horrific aspects, poverty-striken aspects and that’s all well and good; writers are as unique as pieces of art or musical compositions and we all experience certain aspects more than others. However, what I am asking for, aside from your vulnerability, is for you to tell me the truth about what kind of writer you really are. When we aren’t looking, when you have only the watch dog of your own mind to keep you company, where is your heart?
I spoke, via email, with a dear friend who gave me the highest compliment I can imagine when he told me that (in direct relation to my fiction) my heart was good. He could give you more details as to exactly what he meant by this, but after pondering on it for the better part of a day, I think I have an idea.
From as early as I can remember, I’ve been governed by a fine line between what is and what might have been. When I was younger (and had less freedom to practice my night-owl tendencies) I spent hours awake in the dark, and there I would listen to music and tread through imaginary landscapes. The feeling you get from walking out of a movie in which you’ve been totally submersed, where it lingers with you for hours or days, is the same feeling I had every time I’d let go of the walls around me and succumb to my imagination. Yes, most children play make-believe and in a way this is sort of related. The relation, though, is as distant as a cousin twice removed. This is more than mere play or the transitional sort of imagining that even non-creative individuals experience as children. This is a conscious act of destruction on our part in order to see beyond the “if” and into the realm of reality.
For some authors, stories—while certainly imaginative—are purposely constructed. Every path is laid with intention, every character rendered deliberately, every plot twist is part of the author’s skillful manipulation or slight of hand. These mentoring authors write books on technique and style and voice. They teach classes, attend conferences, work as “staff writers” at one writing asylum or another. They are brilliant creators. Some authors believe that everything is centered around the rules taught by these mentors, either that they are gospel truth or that they are poison to the creative process. The “good” advice is to find middle ground. You may see yourself in one of these three groups, but what about the rest of us?
Those walls, were they ever there for me, were torn down so long ago that I can’t even detect the ruins. Those stones were worn away till nothing but sand remains, hot and fine as it slides through sweat-slicked fingers. Traces remain in the creases of my hand—small, irritating bits that get into my eyes at times, but little else. Does that mean I’m pathless? Directionless? Doomed to spend the rest of my life piddling with half-baked stories? Some of you are saying, perhaps aloud, that “yes” I will…that my fiction isn’t any good and that I should learn to pay attention or it will never get any better. You might be right. But, something else, something that rings deeper and truer, tells me otherwise. There is no option for me. As I craft fiction the very fact of being an outsider, who has intruded on some grand illusion, is inconsequential. I genuinely love to read about how some writers weave amazing things into their work, like embroidery thread—where each stitch is undetected by the viewer when the work is seen as a whole. I’m impressed by this, intrigued. I know, vaguely having heard something of the sort, that there are elements of fiction. I’ve read all about them…and continue to read about them. Yet, strangely, these things don’t come to mind when I am writing any more than the evening news does. I simply cannot see them from where I stand…
I don’t fall into the category of believing that rules are restrictive to the process, because I can’t visualize the process when I’m in the midst of it. I also can’t be considered in good company with those who have found that legendary middle, because the very act of ‘finding’ it indicates that a choice has been made, that effort has been exerted towards a goal. Don’t bother posting remarks about why I should get educated on the process and definitely don’t waste your time and mine by commenting on the technical aspects of writing (like grammar)—that will only tell me that you haven’t listened to a thing I’ve said. I’m not talking about editing. I’m talking about story-telling. I’m sharing this, because I know I’m not alone and I’ve yet to hear anyone else speak quite as candidly on the subject. It’s taboo to say that you write without conscious thought…perhaps because it invites others to remark that it shows. But, who convinced you that it would be such a horrible thing to hear? It depends on how you look at it. It warmed my soul to have it affirmed.