Writing as a Journey of Discovery

I’m happily absorbed in rearranging and polishing the third Kate Clifford novel. The first draft of a novel is always a journey of discovery for me: only after I’ve followed the characters through the story do I see the patterns, the connections, the emotional journeys. Then I dive back in, reading it with curiosity, making notes toward the next draft, what to rearrange, what to rewrite, how to polish it. I love this part.

Clearly this process is shared by many, if not most, writers. Here are  two examples that I came across this week.

  • In the last paragraph of Marilynne Robinson’s essay “On Finding the Right Word” in Friday’s NYT she warns against forcing the topic:
    “Writing should always be exploratory. There shouldn’t be the assumption that you know ahead of time what you want to express. When you enter into the dance with language, you’ll begin to find that there’s something before, or behind, or more absolute than the thing you thought you wanted to express. And as you work, other kinds of meaning emerge than what you might have expected. It’s like wrestling with the angel: On the one hand you feel the constraints of what can be said, but on the other hand you feel the infinite potential. There’s nothing more interesting than language and the problem of trying to bend it to your will, which you can never quite do. You can only find what it contains, which is always a surprise.”
    Exploratory, a dance, always a surprised. Exactly!
  • This reminded me of a short video I discovered a few days ago, George Saunders on Story. in which he “deconstructs what makes for an effective story, and describes his personal strategies for writing, revealing the importance of conversing with your characters, the pitfalls of fixing your intentions in place, and why good storytelling is a bit like being in love.”
    Conversing with your characters–I find that essential. I’ve learned to let go of my intentions as soon as a character balks. Instead, I follow their idea and see where it takes me. Sometimes it’s a dead end and I abandon it, but even then I’ve learned something in the process, and I know the story is better for having listened.

 

 

8 Comments on “Writing as a Journey of Discovery

    • Many remarkable writers publish a book a year or more! But I take your comment as a compliment, and I thank you!

      I’d intended to complete this one in a year, but that’s not how it worked out. This will be out in September rather than May ’18.

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  1. Dated comment, but my wife, Spomenka, has recently discovered Marilynne Robinson. I think she has all her books except the first, and I have delved into some of her essays. At your suggestion I have also read a half dozen of Chris Nickson’s books, and recently read the John Carpenter trilogy set in the 14th century. Certainly, as a fellow woodworker I enjoyed it.

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    • I will tell Chris you enjoyed that series, Bob. I’ve read one or two of Marilynne Robinson’s books, and mean to read more. You’ve nudged me. 😉

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      • The book of essays that attracted me is “Why Are We Here” because she writes about the Puritans, specifically John Winthrop, and my maternal 9th great grandfather, John Seaman, came to America with the Winthrop Fleet. He left MA and went south to Long Island, where most of the Seamans stayed, right down to me.

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      • I believe the issue with your name is the new site–I set the comment moderation between your first and second comments here. Once you are recognized on the new site as being approved to comment (just a second check on spam) you’re good to go. Sorry about the confusion.
        I’ve long been curious about her book What Are We Doing Here? Again, thanks for the nudge! How marvelous that you can trace your ancestors so far back.

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  2. The book of essays that attracted me is “Why Are We Here” because she writes about the Puritans, specifically John Winthrop, and my maternal 9th great grandfather, John Seaman, came to America with the Winthrop Fleet. He left MA and went south to Long Island, where most of the Seamans stayed, right down to me.

    Like

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