“It sounds like your stuff.”—Garry Trudeau, Doonesbury
I was talking to my friend M. Terry Green the other day about the extraordinary number of twentysomethings online in this virtual era, and she asked me, “Weren’t you too busy to blog in your twenties?”
I said, “I was too drunk to blog in my twenties.”
This is not entirely true, but it is true when I was in my twenties we didn’t take it as a given that everyone we knew owned an expensive piece of electronic equipment on which to create a magnum opus.
I won my first computer as a Computer Science scholarship from NCR—the cash register manufacturer.
In those days, we typed our fiction. If we couldn’t afford typewriters, we wrote it by hand. If we couldn’t afford pens and paper, we went to our parents and begged them to take us back home again. All of our parents owned pens and paper.
And occasionally we got drunk and tried to write great literature, and in the morning we found notebooks full of big, loopy scrawls that looked like very bad deconstructionist art.
Which brings us to another icon of my twenties, the fabulous Doonesbury character Duke, based as everyone knows upon Hunter S. Thompson, who according to Garry Trudeau had a tendency to take lots of drugs he shouldn’t right before his deadlines.
So when he turned in articles full of, “Wwkeodo djhsaklsadju sl;skfjkdlfsjkyh!!” and shrieked upon discovery, “Someone’s tampered with my brilliant writing!” his editor said, “I don’t know, Duke. It sounds like your stuff.”
This, my friends, is the writing life.
One day we’re in the thick of it, up to our knees in glory, drunk with brilliance, writing through the glow shining from behind our eyeballs, our characters so alive and pulsing and real we can’t imagine how we’re ever going to get this all down without hurting ourselves.
Eventually we’re depleted. It’s been too much. Our fire has scorched the earth, and we have collapsed in its devastating wake. But the gift we have given the world—it is so absolutely, totally, completely worth it.
And when we wake up and haul ourselves by the elbows to our manuscript for a glimpse of the unnerving, once-in-a-generation lightning that has flashed through us. . .we find, “Wwkeodo djhsaklsadju sl;skfjkdlfsjkyh!!”
Wow, that’s a rough day.
Because when we’re writing we simply do not see what the reader sees. The extraordinary words that come tumbling as if conjured out of our creative depths are not necessarily the words that will make the reader envision what we envision. A lot of the time we don’t even know what we want the reader to envision.
And when we do figure out exactly what we want the reader to envision, we don’t always know the many wonderful and varied techniques of the written word that have been developed over hundreds of years to bridge the chasm between the inside of our head and the inside of theirs.
There are so many fabulous craft techniques. I’m telling you, it’s a cornucopia.
There’s Point-of-View (which I’m discussing in the Writer Unboxed newsletter in June—thank you, Emily, for the question!). There’s the cause-&-effect of essential, internally-conflicting character needs. There’s the condensation and contrasting of characters. There’s structure, especially designing story holographically around climactic premises. There’s a whole toolbox of techniques specifically for dialog. There’s a-whole-nother toolbox for action scenes.
There’s telling detail and juxtaposition, haiku description, adroit elimination of transition, resonance, curiosity, push/pull rhythm, rollercoaster imbalance, and of course the many variations on exposition and knowing when and when not to use them. There’s the fine artistry of creating visceral, emotional response in the reader—invisibly! as though by sheer magic—through the order of our paragraphs, our sentences, our very words.
It’s a lifetime of learning. Nobody ever learns it all.
If we want to be good at what we do, we must dedicate ourselves, in all humility and heartfelt sincerity, to that lifetime.
No one else is going to do it for us.
Have an editing or craft question for Victoria? Contact her at victoria at victoriamixon dot com and she could be answering your question in her next post.
Image from charms and chimes.