“Think about it long enough, and you begin to realize that many, if not most, of the things we believe about writing are false.” -Verlyn Klinkenborg, New York Times
Yesterday I received a rejection from an agent who requested my full manuscript after receiving a query. I was thrilled, inspired, and many other over the top verb forms. The soles of my shoes had a two-week reprieve since I did not touch the ground for at least two weeks.
The Soul and Sole of Writing
The same soles are now working overtime, dragging this chagrined soul following the rejection comments. There were many positive comments regarding the story itself, and I am pleased. One negative comment she made suggested there was too much telling and not enough showing.
I have heard this axiom bandied about for years, especially in the theater where language-in-action is essential. But novels have always had an element of telling. On the other hand, perhaps this is her way of saying the story is incomplete or lacking something. This reminded me of Eddie Izzard, the British comic who labeled himself an executive transvestite. In one of his routines he makes a statement of perhaps dubious veracity and then shakes his head, as if to say ‘That’s so wrong,’ and after a moment does a take and nods his head yes, as if to say ‘Of course it’s true!’ This flip-flopping proceeds to great comic affect to the point where we no longer remember the statement, simply enjoy the internal flip-flop.
Not long ago, I read a respected blog on writing craft in which the author queried a number of writers regarding their work approach: do they work from an outline or simply start writing. Most, not all, seemed to say they started writing, not sure of where they were going. A significant number professed devotion to the outline process. Looking back on those responses, I believe I hear a little Izzard in those replies. I suspect the only mystery about writing is how many revisions will it take to make it work. Izzard’s internal flip-flopping between yes and no makes me smile.
Quite simply, there’s a lot we don’t know about he writing process
I read an interesting commentary in the Times, of all places, on writing craft, entitled “Where Do Sentences Come From?”
“Sift the debris of a young writer’s education, and you find dreadful things — strictures, prohibitions, dos, don’ts, an unnatural and nearly neurotic obsession with style, argument and transition. Yet in that debris you find no traces of a fundamental question: where do sentences come from? This is a philosophical question, as valuable in the asking as in the answering. But it’s a practical question, too. Think about it long enough, and you begin to realize that many, if not most, of the things we believe about writing are false.” – Where Do Sentences Come From? by Verlyn Klinkenborg, NY Times.
It seems that much of our education, where writing is concerned, is writing to make writing. We rearrange things we’ve been told or read. How many of us begin with an idea? How many of us pose a question? Ultimately, all fiction is a question posed that compels us to seek an answer. How the heck could it be both the best of times and the worst of times? What kind of time is that?
I read this article with great interest since it seemed to be suggesting where I would really find my voice. How we pose a question reveals as much about the author as the journey that follows. Posing the question is imbued with our special point of view and life experience. A well posed question will trigger those things that matter and when we write about things that matter the passion will pull others with us.
“Again and again I see in students, no matter how sophisticated they are, a fear of the dark, cavernous place called the mind. They turn to it as though it were a mailbox. They take a quick peek, find it empty and walk away.” -Verlyn Klinkenborg
Klinkenborg suggests creating ideas in your head, perhaps based on a piece of poetry or anything you have read. Let the thoughts tumble around. Then create a sentence, but don’t write it down. Leave it in your mind, where the sentence can be changed arranged differently or totally discarded.
You need to learn patience in the presence of your own thoughts. That’s why these sentences are not written down. We need to wait patiently for the ideas or thoughts worth inscribing to form. Instant gratification in the computerized, smartphone, digital world is a negative. I have always jokingly suggested to my wife when something is not being down around the house fast enough that “You can’t rush art.” That response may well be procrastination; it is also wise. The same is said for my novel. I can’t rush art.
It’s taken me three years to create a worthwhile story, and it is; worthwhile. I believe the story is worthy of paper and printing process. I’ve come this far; I should finish.
The agent also suggested that pacing was a problem. I can see that, and since the time I first sent her the manuscript and today I have excised more than 8,000 words. Perhaps we are just beginning to realize Vidal’s ‘constant revision.’ He reportedly said one time, “I have nothing to say, only add.” Constant revision is required; writing is rewriting. The self-publishing world might be tugging at the instant gratification of this current world. You can’t rush art!
Patience and rewriting my fellow scribes.