The Dichotomy of You – The Writer
You are a complex animal. You are not only human (already a perplexing tangle of physical, emotional, and spiritual knots), you are also a writer. You are human complexity to a factor of ten – a bundle of contradictions and rabbit holes. Your writer’s mind works in mysterious and sometimes seriously confusing ways. And yet, somehow, you manage to pull moments of truth and beauty from the chaos. Eventually.
Being a writer means keeping the push and pull of life at the surface. You do not sublimate the battle that perpetually rages around us. You not only see and acknowledge this conflict, you pull it apart so you can look deep inside. This exploration requires you to inhabit two worlds at once – the “real” world and the inner world. To the uninitiated, these two realms of existence appear mutually exclusive, but the writer knows that they intersect often and in unexpected ways.
To journey between worlds, you wear many different guises – taking on the minds and lives of your characters, experiencing the world through their eyes and sharing what you learn. Even if you write memoir or personal essays, your writing voice is often different from your “real world” voice. The voice that has emerged through my column writing is much more reflective and lyrical than the more pragmatic voice of my daily interactions. Though both aspects are equally authentic parts of my personality, each exists primarily in its own sphere, meeting where words land on the page. You live, I imagine, in similarly distinct yet inextricably linked worlds.
As a writer, you wear your insides on the outside. Even if your stories are fiction, they expose the private turmoil that writhes beneath the surface of your public persona. Neither is more “real” than the other. They are each valid halves of the dichotomy that is you.
What I’m Writing:
Though my writing plans were slightly derailed last weekend, I did manage (over the course of a couple early mornings and late nights) to pull together a few pages of new writing to submit in class last Tuesday. Though it was incomplete and (very) first-draft-y, I was just happy I managed to get some words on the page. It wasn’t easy, but it was satisfying.
Though it’s always a work in progress, I have gained some clarity about the writing process that works for me. This is something you can only learn through practice. The myth of best practices runs rampant in the writing world. We devour blogs and books full of advice on how to be creative, productive, efficient writers. We seek out the secrets of other writers’ success, hoping that the magic formula they have devised will work for us. But, the truth is each writer is unique and the number of variables in play allow for an almost infinite number of variations on the theme. Your quickest route to discovering your own secret sauce is to write, write, and then write some more. You’ll figure it out.
We discussed the danger of preconceptions about how to write during this past week’s writing class. I confessed that I sometimes feel like I’m not a “real” writer because I am much more a planner than a “panster,” or – as our instructor described it – more an architect than a gardener. I worry that my need to spend a lot of time figuring out the mechanics, structure, and flow of a story before I sit down to write somehow makes my writing less authentic or creative than the writer who lets the story develop organically. I was thrilled when strangewriter brought this up in the comments of last week’s weekend edition. It reminded me, once again, that there is no right way to write. There are the rules of craft (which you should learn, if only to break them), but there is no universally correct way to go about bringing a story to life. You must find (or make) your own path through the wilderness. While another writer may need to write early in the morning with a clear head, your muse may be more compliant in the quiet hours just after midnight.
I’m both anxious and eager to hear the class’s feedback on my submission. Unearthing my best writing process may be a personal quest, but crafting my best story is a mission that is well served by collaboration with others in a safe, supportive space like our class. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
What I’m Reading:
Other than a few minutes stolen here and there, reading time has been in extremely short supply this week. Mostly, I’ve been listening to a nonfiction audio book called Citizen Canine by journalist David H. Grimm. Being an “animalish” person, I was immediately intrigued by the notion of exploring the origins, evolution, and changing status of dogs and cats.
Though it’s nonfiction, this fascinating book is full of inspirations for stories. As I listen, I am reminded of the old adage that life is stranger than fiction. Many fiction writers, both short story writers and novelists, mine history and current events for characters and story ideas. A simple and fun way to come up with new story ideas is to play the “what if/why” game with a piece of nonfiction. For instance, in Citizen Canine, I have so far learned about:
- An ancient burial site that predates Egypt, the culture that we consider the cradle of the cat craze, but which contains a complete cat skeleton that was clearly buried with, as Grimm puts it, a lot of “pomp” – What is the story behind that culture, that tribe, that specific cat? Why was the cat positioning within the grave looking eye-to-eye with the human corpse?
- A kitten who “donated” a kidney to save her brother – The kittens belonged to Grimm and he noted in his telling of the story that “donated” is a word he used loosely, since the “donor” kitten didn’t really have a say in the matter. What kinds of questions does this bring up for you? What if the patients were humans? What if the two cats belonged to different families?
- The domesticated silver fox, the result of fifty years of experiments in selective breeding in the Soviet Union and Russia – What if the experiments yielded different results? What if that same contrived domestication was used on people? What if the domestication wasn’t lasting throughout generations and suddenly the docile silver foxes turned wild again?
There are so many ideas and stories to explore. And, story ideas aside, Grimm’s book really is so interesting and very well written. I’m hooked.
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
Before I get to this week’s blogs, I wanted to remind you about that very cool word count Google doc that I mentioned a while back. The spreadsheet lets you color codes your daily word count tally, giving you a beautiful and simple at-a-glance view of your productivity over the calendar year. To use, click the link to download and then go to File > Make A Copy and save to your own drive. This may come in especially handy for any of you doing NaNoWriMo, but I may put it to good use starting in January as a way to kickoff my writing goals for the year.
- Why Stephen King’s Road to Hell is Paved with Adverbs by Meg Miller
- One Word to Transform Your Writing by Marcy McKay via @thewritepractice
- Three Things All Novelists Need (According to Haruki Murakami) by @chrisrobley
- 7 Pieces of Wisdom that Will Change the Way You Work via @99u
- 12 Articles that Will Help You Write Your Next Novel by @chrisrobley
- Five Great Reads for Your Book Club by Catherine McKenzie
- 15 Quick and Easy Productivity Super-Hacks for Busy Bloggers by Pooja Lohana via @Problogger
- Writer Gets Readers to Pay Him to Edit His Manuscript by Keith Thompson
- How to Stand Out on Social Media – CARE by @danblank
Finally, a quote for the week:
Here’s to embracing the dichotomy of your life as a writer and all the stranger-than-fiction realities that exist in the “real” world. Happy reading and writing. Have a great weekend & I’ll see you on the other side!
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally – trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.