Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Rhythm Of The Words

For me, there is a certain rhythm to writing a book. It’s not something I can just sit down and do, word after word, sentence after sentence, progressing through a logical sequence until the story has spun itself out on my page. There are, instead, phases to the process. Some of these phases look like active artistry. Others look like pre-work or preparation. Still others look like failure.

It’s taken me a long time to learn to trust this process, and in many ways I still don’t. I look at it askance, wondering if the pieces that feel like failure really are, if this is the time that the sequence will fall apart, like a zipper that has suddenly lost a vital tooth.

Because it feels that way sometimes—no, every time—when that spot comes in the writing when all the pieces are there, but they’re scattered, some here, some there, some ends tied off neatly, others frayed and broken. They couldn’t possibly all come together to form that final, tight weave that fashions story.

But they do. Eventually, they do.

I can’t make them do this. Sometimes sitting down to write, putting pen to paper, is enough to coax the flow and bring the various bits into alignment. But other times putting pen to paper is an exercise in futility. Nothing comes, or if it does come, it’s forced and twisted, broken, or it’s like trying to weave a stick into fine linen. It just doesn’t fit.

It’s then that I have to wait. It takes such patience, such trust, to just wait. I want to dive into the story again, to find all those loose bits and make them no longer loose, but on the days that require waiting, they simply won’t fold into each other. They’re ragged and sharp and stubborn. They don’t want to be.

Waiting, though. Waiting with the words, with the pieces. Hiding from them. Letting them hide from you. Lifting them into the light and examining them, like jewels under a loupe, looking for the flaws and the perfections. Ignoring them, then examining them far too closely.

It’s this constant handling, dropping, picking up and examining that finally lets me find the pieces where a story line has gone astray, or the place where I planted a clue I didn’t even know I’d written. When I find the flaws and the ways to smooth them out, or the underlying themes I didn’t know were there. Only then, after this careful and constant, trusting search, can I finally pull all those pieces together into a unified whole.

Only with the constant, steady practice can you learn to trust those silences. Only when you’ve let the process happen time after time, watching it, exploring it, can you truly believe that the story will find its way, with you or without you.

Constancy. Practice. Diligence. Trust. When these all come together, the result is the miracle that is a completed work of written art.