An Author Surrenders
I wrote yesterday about where an author’s attention must remain whether she is writing her first or fortieth book. An author must write what she knows. The author asks, “What does this story want me to say most?” The author waits for the answer, and when it arrives she translates that answer as accurately as possible into words. The author then asks, “Have I translated what this story wants me to say as accurately as I possibly can at this time?” If the answer is yes, there are no more questions to ask. An author’s story, just like what the author loves, resides entirely within her. It is for this reason that the author can know her story with the unique understanding of the heart and the imagination. When an author asks what her story wants her to say and if she has said it, she is asking the only two questions to which she has an answer.
There is great pleasure in asking questions that you alone can answer. This is how our voice is heard. This is what a writer does. But an author has a different job. An author must hand this work to other people, whose loves and interests and tastes, just like hers, reside entirely within them. We cannot know what another person will love or think or do. It is necessarily impossible. And yet it is this unknowable life to which we must give not just our work but the source of our very livelihood.
The real job of the author, then, is to surrender to the unknown. We have no other choice. The day I decided to become an author, the day I said, okay time to write a novel and do this for real, was the day my greatest pain was born. On that day I thought, “This must work, and I must know that it will work. Not knowing how and when and why this will work is utterly unacceptable.”
So began my education. I had unwittingly asked an unanswerable question. I assumed that the answers I sought lay somehow in my writing, and I would stare at those sentences until I hated them for what they could not provide. My education taught me that surrendering to the unknown is like crossing a balance beam. I find my balance again and again with each step, and the more that I understand it is balance I am seeking, not answers, the surer my steps become.
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