You’ve probably heard writers declaiming how hard it is to write. Maybe that’s why there’s a virtual cottage industry on the topic of writer’s block. Nearly every day I face the emptiness of the open page, especially when working on a first draft. What’s ahead is literally blank, and I’m faced with the same mini-crisis. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. Some days it’s a full-scale crisis. I believe it was Grace Paley who once said that we don’t write about what we know; we write about we don’t know. Oh, lots of writers have said very similar things. Tobias Wolff said every time you write you’re stepping off into darkness and hoping for some light.
How do you find out what you don’t know? Well, you venture into unknown territory. It’s scary going places we haven’t been, and I would have to think that even the most meticulous plotters and planners must experience plenty of unexpected directions. It’s part of the crazy-making magic of writing. It’s part of the reason we get–as Ann Lamott has famously noted in Bird by Bird–shitty first drafts. But whether or not you carry a map, and however seriously you want to propel the momentum of your narrative, the point at which you break away from the fear and dive in and start “just going,” is the moment (however fractional) that you loosen up and give over to the genius of your intuition, a far better guide than your own genius.
In the end, that’s what fiction is anyway. It’s exploring, not laying down tracts of information. Not preaching or teaching, but revealing and dramatizing. You get to the drama by allowing your sometimes stumbling, bumbling self to wade out into that water where you might stub your toe, slip or get picked to death by flesh-eating piranhas. But you might also discover a tidal pool of anemones and sea urchins, hermit crabs and starfish. Maybe even a treasure box of Spanish dobloons from some ancient warship that sunk off the nearby coast. Is it work or play the fiction writer is after? There’s so much of both that when you settle down and get immersed in what you’re doing, hopefully the distinction between the two blurs into one.
Okay, I’ve put it off long enough this morning. Posts like this are relatively easy. Right now, I’m writing another narrative point-of-view to a novel I’d already considered finished. I have no idea what she’s going to say, but she wants to come into being and I better open up to wherever it is she’ll lead.
Wish me luck!