Sunday, October 21, 2012

In the Writing Process

Those splendid words “in the process” have at least two meanings for you, both of which are in a metaphoric sense the identification stamp transferred to your hand when you go to a music performance that has taken a break or intermission.  You show the stamped hand at the door and you are readmitted to the performance.

“In the process” is also your identity band to gain access into your next working session as a writer, whether the working session is mapped out for fiction or nonfiction.  This last is so because, on an increasing level, nonfiction requires the presence of story, some braid of elements beyond mere concept.

The primary meaning for you of “in the process” relates to your own definition of what story is, a tool you should have with you at all times but in particular at those times when you seek to develop, encourage, then harness a given story.  A mere concept: someone wants something, and then sets out to achieve it.  This is not yet story, is only a step or two toward story, regardless of how vital those early steps are.  Yes, story is recognition of a need or a desire.  An individual wishes to become a concert-level musician.  Check desire.

Now, what about the instrument?  The individual needs an instrument on which to perform in order to develop the necessary skills to reach concert level.  Check off the need.  Two steps are in place.  Yet, if the individual studies, practices, then achieves the desired level of ability, there is still no story, only another step or two toward the goal.

In order for the individual to fulfill the requirements for story, she or he must meet some obstacle beyond recognition or awareness, prior to achievement.  The individual must be in some risk of some relevant sort, forcing the individual to realize the potential of failure or, worse yet, of lacking all the necessary skills, even to the point of recognizing, pinpointing the lack before setting off on yet another quest to achieve the missing skills.  Direct paths and shortcuts do not produce stories; rather they derail stories, sending them back to the concepts of their origins.

Here’s where the first “in the process” comes into play.  Story is an individual recognizing a need or desire, meeting some opposition and vulnerability, and in the process discovering an unexpected means to achieve the goal or—and this is of equal importance—to render the goal no longer the central force it was at the outset.  With the example given of the individual wishing to achieve concert-level playing and interpretive abilities, what discovery could she make to cause that goal to lose its primary importance?  Some might answer that the individual would come to the awareness of the selfishness of keeping the abilities to herself as opposed to teaching others how to perform, thus enriching the instrument, the concert potentials, and the love of the music.
You’d answer toward expanding the areas of performance to include composition as, say, Joseph Haydn did or Mozart did, or that rascally pianist Beethoven did.  In apercu, you’d say that the desired goal of the outset was not enough.  The payoff has to include achievement and the internal growth and evolution of the original vision.

That would be you, neither better nor worse that you can see in comparison to those writers and writings you admire, rather a straightforward, almost reductionist expression of what story is to you of a late Sunday evening toward the final third of October in 2012.

The other “in the process” refers to the entire set of feelings, thoughts, techniques, and tools you associate with how you compose.  You make no mistake about it—although you have in the past—that composition of story, of narrative, and of conversational-level essay are components of a process, as surely as the baker who produces steaming, pungent rhubarb pies, or the actor who is able to transform the truth and authenticity of the actor’s actual self into the truth and authenticity of an imaginary being, are processes, in fact, the process, the creative process.

Where do you go from there?

You go into the process of composition, using the array of tools you’ve picked up along the way, either from your own trial and error or the close reading of writers you admire who appear to you to have such ample toolkits that they produce pages in ways that make it seem they are not even trying to produce.  You know better.  If you’d had any notion of how difficult it was, you might have been frightened away.  How fortunate for you that you chose men and women artisans who effectively caused you to think it was easy and fun.  There is no ease to it nor is there fun.  Try telling a composer/writer who is not writing/composing that it is easy and fun.  Wait.  Better not.  On the other hand, when you are in the process, it seems easy and fun even though you know well enough that it is not.

There is no ease nor fun when you read such contemporary writers as Louise Erdrich or Francine Prose or James Lee Burke or Daniel Woodrell.  There is neither ease nor fun when you read writers who are dead or writers you knew and have outlived, at least not until you stop comparing how far they went beyond your toolkit and imagination, speaking out across the ages to you as Rochester spoke out across the moors to Jane, as the Sirens spoke to Odysseus and his men as they attempted to sail home.

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