Saturday, June 7, 2014

Are We "There" Yet?

Among the offerings of advice given to emerging storytellers, your favorite is the admonition to write only what you know.  You favor it with the belief of it being advice so assertive in its wrongness that it becomes funny the moment it is uttered.

The moment you begin writing about a thing you know--or believe you know--you are on your way to discovering the great existential truth of not knowing as much as you thought.  If you pursue the matter to any depth, you might come to discover your knowledge or understanding of a person, place, or thing is at odds from what is considered to be the conventional wisdom about the person, place, or thing under study.

Were you to write about conventional wisdom, you might discover an even greater awareness paradigm:  Conventional wisdom is in the process of evolving along with the evolution of the species.  First published, if we can accept multiple copies being copied by scribes, in about 1350, Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales provide an acute vision of human behavior from a number of perspectives.  

Even though some of the professions referenced are no longer readily visible, every one of the characters represents not only himself or herself but a type as well.  Their motives are often straightforward to the point where we can readily grasp them across the chasm of nearly eight hundred years.  

Language conventions seem to change more quickly than social ones; we might have trouble getting a meaning from a word, but we need few footnotes or exegeses to help us understand who the character is.

In addition, we have an additional dimension of insight into the character, thanks to his or her choice of story to tell as a pastime on the long trek from The Tabard Inn in London to the Canterbury Cathedral, somewhat to the east.  You thought none of these things as you read the tales for the first few times; the insights began to come as your own awareness of figurative things,of implications and inferences.

You've answered the why question any number of times.  These last weeks, you've been answering interviews relative to your new collection of short stories, reminding yourself as you answer questions from others that you write in order to discover.  There was, in fact, a time when this meant you wrote only one or two drafts, because you'd discovered what you were after, which was a conventional wisdom type of closure.

Now, you write many more drafts because your tolerance for conventional wisdom type endings has all but evaporated.  Thus you write to discover.  Then you revise to work in ways that you hope will help convey your vision to a great many others.

A favored story illustrative of the way writing to discover works is the one told you by Ernie Harburg of his famed, lyric-writing father, E. Y. "Yip" Harburg.  One day, the elder Harburg was challenged by an insistent newspaper reporter to explain how it was he could have written such a memorable song as "April in Paris" without ever having been there.

Harburg drew himself up, began to shake his index finger at the reporter.  "Listen, kid,"  he is reported to have said, "I've never been over the rainbow, either."

You gather all the facts you can, ingest them, then set about the routines you have devised for working your craft.  One day, maybe soon, maybe not, your inner process will deliver the results.  Then you will be "there;" you'll know how much you know, and you will at that time understand how much more, if any, you will need to ingest and how much,if any, you will need to eliminate.


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