On Writing (Part One): Self-Discovery

I’ve always thought of my writing as organic, as happening beside and outside of me. I read somewhere where a sculptor (I forget who) praised for his statue insisted that he hadn’t created it, that it had existed inside the stone; he’d merely used his chisel to free it. That’s the way I thought of my writing—I likened it to capturing fireflies in a jar.

My characters are a visitation (blessing, or curse, I’m sometimes not sure, especially when they jabber incessantly, distracting me from the task at hand, waking me from my sleep). If they are a visitation, I am but a helpless medium, charged with channeling their spirit energy, their words, while I remain unable to control or direct them, unable to summon them at will—that is at times that suit me when I am ready and able to write.

The characters, the words, they are there in the air, I just have to capture and share them. At least, that is what I used to think. Now, I’m not so sure.

Of course, it was another who raised this doubt, who ignited this debate with myself. That other would be none other than my friend and fellow writer Hans Hirschi. As I was preparing the original draft of this blog post, I stumbled across his review of In His Eyes. 

“It’s taken me days to read this story. Larry’s writing is carefully crafted, and not as fluent as someone who writes more subconsciously,” he wrote.

Then went on to close with this:

In His Eyes is a beautiful story. Not an easy read, but a true work of art. If you like to read meticulously crafted books, and you have the time to really let go and focus on a slow read, I highly recommend…”

And there it was “carefully crafted;” “meticulously crafted;” “not as fluent as someone who writes more subconsciously.” I sat with those words for days. Was it true? The more I pondered this question, the more I came to realize that while I insist my characters, their words already exist, once I capture them, it’s up to me to figure out how to structure and tell the story. I’ve always wondered if the meanings we attach to the stories we read and what we take away from them, are our own projections or what the writer imposed on us.

The other night I was up in the middle of the night working on my current WIP (Work in Progress). There was a sentence that I wrote fairly quickly. I then spent an hour polishing it, testing each word for fit, experimenting with punctuation so the sentence flowed, sang, exactly the way I needed it to. Hans is right, I may be capturing fireflies but before I release them, I bend and twist them until they become something else, something light and fragile, as delicately balanced as a dragonfly.

I no longer remember where this appears, but somewhere in my books is a line that reads: He was a designer of rooms so delicately balanced, you weren’t allowed to enter them wearing perfume. That was an Hitchcockian move where I appeared in my own work as a shadow. It was a coy reference to my writing itself.

I sat with this thought for days. I obsessively thought about my writing, my approach, my process. Every character’s name has meaning—I typically assign them a letter at the beginning and choose their names after I get to know then; often I consult a baby naming book to search for names based on meaning or the character’s characteristics. for the meaning of names. For example, in Unbroken, Jose’s sister is named Marisol, which means “bitter,” because bitterness is at the core of her personality; it is bitterness that informs her words, her actions. In In His Eyes, one main character is named Reid which means red-head because he is red haired but also because that red hair signifies his whiteness, his othering by other (non-white) characters in the book.

What my characters wear reveals something about them. I weigh every word carefully. Every sentence is examined and polished. No one sees my work until I’m sure it’s as perfect as I can make it and then Deb my editor and publisher is the first person to see it. We often have conversations about punctuation and sometimes word replacement at which point I usually whine over email that changing that word or removing that comma breaks the rhythm of the sentence that I hear in my heard when I read the line. I am, I admit, possibly mad. I have no idea how Deb puts up with me. Does she shake her head and roll her eyes at my madness? Does she pop a Valium and send me another email? I have no idea, but we always make it to the point where we both think the book is the best it can be. It’s a tremendous partnership and one I truly value.

All of which I find surprising for I am not a perfectionist. I firmly believe that often, good enough is…good enough. Unless it’s my writing, apparently.

Rereading this post, I’m still marveling that I had to see myself through another’s eyes to truly see myself.

Read On Writing Part Two: (You’ve Got to be) Ruthless

Photo by Andrew Bui on Unsplash

 


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