One thing I’ve learned from my experiences so far is that writing just doesn’t “happen”. The whole romantic idea of sitting down at a keyboard, or your preferred writing medium, and just flowing with words isn’t real. If anything, you’re at the mercy of the literary spirits. Sorry. Your mental bubble is undoubtedly burst. How will you ever go on in life?
The famous artist Michelangelo once said in regards to one of his sculptures, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Writing I would have to say is quite similar. The work can’t be forced into the world, but rather the artist must quiet their minds and listen for the voices of their characters to make themselves known. Sometimes they will speak louder than avalanches, facilitating a torrent of words to paper. Other times they will be shy, silent as the grave. In these instances, you almost feel like a medium at a séance pleading for your characters to do something as simple as issue the smallest of whispers. Once this is done, it’ll become easier to coax the others into existence.
If you poke and prod beyond their liking, they’ll rebel and leave you in unnerving silence. Even worse, you might get the equivalent of writer’s diarrhea, where to your horror you’ll find what resembles utter, unequivocal crap.
So far, not only do we then find the process less romantic than we originally idealized, as well as more time consuming and tedious, but it also can be extremely nerve racking. Once the words have finally been divinely revealed, you’ll undoubtedly have a moment of clarity akin to when Dr. Frankenstein first looked on his monster with horror, repulsed by his ungodly work. A story is never ready to serve without a little mending. No matter how awesome of a writer you think you are, it’ll take a number of re-reads and editing until the words are arranged in a fashion that isn’t gibberish.
Years ago I was introduced to a wonderful poem by Anne Bradstreet. Her poem speaks about the relationship of an author with their book, and the feelings they have towards it. Because I feel it would be a disservice to “hack” the poem into a sample size, I present it to you in its entirety.
The Author to Her Book
By Anne Bradstreet (1678)
Thou ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth did’st by my side remain,
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true
Who thee abroad, expos’d to publick view;
Made thee in rags, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge)
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
They blemishes amend, if so I could:
I wash’d thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretcht thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun cloth, i’ th’ house I find.
In this array, ‘mongst vulgars mayst thou roam
In critics hands, beware thou dost not come;
And take thy way where yet thou art not known,
If for they father askt, say, thou hadst none:
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caus’d her thus to send thee out of door.
Bradstreet’s poem speaks about her work, in this case either a book of poems or stories, given to her friends for review. In perhaps their poor judgement, or themselves being too kind in their critique, forwarded her work for outside criticisms, unknownst to Mrs. Bradstreet from what the poem implies. Upon its return with criticism, she was greatly embarrassed. Instead of trashing her book, having spent a great deal of energy on it already, she takes a little more to fix its flaws to the best of her abilities, though she herself admits she’s ill equipped in her writing tools to fashion it just the way she would like it. Never before have I read a creative description of a writer and their work that both was entertaining and true at the same time.
What should be taken out of all my ramblings is that writing is a labor of love. Often times there is no other reward than the satisfaction you get on making something that at least one other person may enjoy. Like any craft, it takes times to hone, hammering away at the dull blade of a novice until it becomes the sharp sword of one with experience. The process itself isn’t all roses and butterflies, but often times harsh reality. It’ll test you and make you question whether or not you’ve chosen to pursue the right endeavor. The finished product may also create more doubt, making you want to throw it out the window, sell your typewriter, make origami of your writing paper, and take a 9 to 5 job.
But in the end, when all the doubt is exhausted and the stars align, you’ll find yourself face to face with what you’ve been striving for; this child that was hidden in the paper and the ink, the writer’s blocks and the long sleepless nights, the doubt and self-loathing, and hopefully what you’ll see will make it all worth it.