life between the pages

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books.
In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”
Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Thursday, February 05, 2015

the writer as pilgrim

Two articles leapt at my consciousness this week, both about writing. And suddenly, I know how to go forward from here.

The first, The Price I Pay to Write, by Laura Bogart and published online in Dame Magazine, reflects on the difficulties of wedging time to write within the framework of days fraught with other responsibilities having to do with caring for children, putting food on the table, and - oh yeah - doing the work you actually get paid to do.

The second, about Annie Dillard and entitled The Thoreau of the Suburbs, by Diana Saverin, didn't so much tell me things about the author's experiences in writing a Pulitzer-winning nonfiction work in her twenties as it revealed something of what I already knew. (The Dillard's home is well known to us in the Hollins community, and while it surprised me for an instant to see the somewhat nondescript brick ranch just over the little bridge where she lived while working on the book, it didn't really register what a marvelous feat of alchemy she had performed in getting most of us to believe she lived alone in the woods while writing.) As Saverin points out, it's what she left out that instills in us the knowledge of her experience. And isn't that what we're told in writing class - omit that which doesn't contribute to the story, and therefore does not need to be included? Trim, trim, and cut and trim again, until we have the fine, distilled essence of truth.

No one is ever going to know - or care, really - that you went to the grocery store, had two kids in college, and worked a rather boring but remunerative nine-to-five while crafting your massive, awesome book. Can you tell that this frightening yet exhilarating treatise on fecundity was penned while living an ordinary life in a city of about 100,000 people? No? Moreover, does it matter - does it make it any less powerful and interesting? Well, then.

Sometimes things are so subtle I miss them the first - and second and even third - times.

But here it is: you don't have to change your life to write. You just need to do it. Do it when you might otherwise be watching a movie, reading a novel, cleaning off the staircase and putting laundry away. Those things will wait, at least until tomorrow. Today, we can write. A friend noted recently that if you write only 250 words a day by the end of a year you will have 90,000 words - a decent body of writing in anyone's world. And from thence you can whittle and shape and re-arrange, much easier now through cutting and pasting than in the days before word processors when Dillard used index cards.

In these few stolen moments between phone calls I've made tea and written nearly 500 words. By the time this is done it will be closer to six hundred. This is what is called progress. Exercise the fingers, broaden the links between mind and word and screen (or paper, if you prefer). No one is picking up the tab, nobody's awarding us an honorarium for letters, and there's no housekeeper to answer the phone or the door. But we can keep going, we keep writing and we end up with words - words for tomorrow, next week, and the week after - and as they accumulate they turn from sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into essays, stories, and yes, even novels. Or nonfiction - truth, if you will - distilled from life.

Bravo! Now keep going!



2 comments:

Inchwormart said...

Terrific post and thanks for the links and quotes...I'm inspired!

susannah eanes said...

Thanks, sweetie! Always a pleasure hearing from you :)