Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to the Ventura County Writer’s Club about the myth that writing is necessarily hard, a subject I have addressed from time to time in this space. I had been warned that the crowd, while not hostile, was nearly unanimously dubious. Good, I thought. That meant they had thought about the premise, which meant they were interested. I’ll take dubious over disinterested any day. For the record, the speech went well, by which I mean we – both speaker and audience – seemed to be in a generally jolly mood by the end of it. Whether they were all converted to not, I cannot say, but of course that was never my intention from the outset. As with any lecture, which is only another art form, the goal was to introduce a felt perspective that the listener can use or abandon as it serves him or her.
After the speech a fellow came up to me and shook my hand. “You’re not talking about writing, are you?” he said. “You’re talking about life.”
“That is correct, sir.”
Strangely, it was this very observation of his – that I was not talking about writing – that most pleased my writer’s heart. Rule one of writing, and a good one it is, says: Show Don’t Tell. I had allowed at least this one man to decide for himself that as we learn to write we are really learning to live. If I had simply told him that, he would have been required to believe me. Since it was his own discovery, he only had to believe himself.
This is so much the job of the writer, regardless of his story. How can I tell this so that it becomes the reader’s story? How do I leave enough open space for the reader to enter the story fully and finish it for herself? After all, we writers are not the message; we are only the messengers. Whatever we are sharing, whether it is love or fear or conflict or peace, existed long before us, all of it as ancient as time and yet miraculously new with each discovery.
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