I recently posted a short compilation video called “What Writing Has Taught Me.” I ask this question of every author at the end of our interview and I find that it often gets to the heart of the big writing question, namely: Why do we do this? Andre Dubus said that his writing improved when he approached a story with “something to learn instead of something to say.” Professionally, Andre is a teacher as well as a writer, and you don’t have to sit with him long to learn that he has a great many things to say. I too write and teach, and you need only glance at the hundreds of entries in this column to know that I have plenty to say as well. Yet Andre could not be more right. No matter how convinced we are of our convictions, our work will always improve when we approach the blank page with the humility of a student rather than the certainty of an instructor.
It is strange, then, that as authors we are, technically speaking, authorities. And yes, when we write we must do so with authority – we must seek the truth and share what we have found with confidence. The seeking, however, is for us; the sharing is for our readers. But the seeking remains the important ingredient, and why, I believe, my question so often intrigues the authors I interview.
I have come to understand that “the truth” that we seek as writers is just that – a singular, though all-encompassing, it. Everyone knows this same truth. Yet it is so vast, so infinitely faceted, that each of us for our own reasons develops a kind of blindness toward one or many of the facets. The world, then, appears incomplete, perhaps ruined even, a broken place where broken people lead their broken lives, and all the doctors and journalists and politicians and judges and parents and, yes, teachers and writers, must fix it, fix it fix it so that something called happiness might be known.
You cannot fix what isn’t broken. Instead you can learn to see what is already there. In that instant of seeing, the world becomes whole; in that instant of expanded perception the writer discovers what he has forgotten, and feels – if only for a second – that holy awareness that he then calls “The End.”
Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!