Turning and Turning

I confess to loving it when writers confess that sometimes we can't explain how or why it is that we do what we do. That some of our best work is the result not of grand theory, premeditated strategies or any profound understanding of our own process, but of simple trial and error.

"Let's put," Norman Mailer said, "the thingamajig before the whoosits . . . is how I usually state the deepest literary problems to myself."

"I turn sentences around. That's my life," the writer Lonoff says in Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer. "I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I read the two sentences over and I turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning."

*

Yesterday I was thinning apricots from my trees, pulling as many of the small green ones off as I could so the remaining fruit would be stronger and so the branches wouldn't be weighed down so bulbously this summer they snapped. After I was done with a branch, it rose up light, airy again.

"Oh," said a voice in my head, "this is just like writing."

"No," another voice said in my head, "it is not."

*

Things I will never write about on this blog, because I don't know how to:

Why one idea for a story stays with me, but another one dies on the vine even after it's staked.

Why too many of my characters are too much like me, now that I look back on them. (I probably know the answer to this one. I just don't want to think about it.)

Why it doesn't bother me, why in fact it feels good, killing young, green fruit.

Why I feel absolutely worthless if I'm not turning sentences around. ("I ask myself," says Lonoff, "Why is there no way but this for me to fill my hours?")

*

Phrases and sentences I got to use in my writing yesterday that I've never used before:

"fog signal building"

"I stayed clear of the children, so they wouldn't warm to me."

"as if air had turned to water"

"So they wouldn't warm to me, I stayed clear of the children."

"The strongest do what you describe."

Oh I hope I get to keep them. I hope I do.

--MD

Comments

If nothing else, the "If I stayed clear of the children" one has to stay. I decree it. :) A whole book could be written off that sentence alone.
Mylène said…
Thanks, Kat!
Great post! The only way I can explain why I'm writing some elements into the opening of my new wip is: I have no idea, but I'm pretty sure the story knows...

I take it as an article of faith.
Fred Ramey said…
An editor can learn a great deal from that post. Thanks for it, Mylène.

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