In the excellent documentary Man on a Wire, the French tightrope walker Philippe Petit describes stepping out onto a wire strung between the top floors of the Twin Towers (this was in 1974). Petit had done similar stunts before, but nothing nearly this daring nor so absolutely certain to end his life death should he fail. Apparently, every tight rope has its own unique balance, and the artist must find that balance to travel effortlessly from one end to the other. Within a few strides, Petit knew he’d found that balance. He then spent two hours on the wire. I think of that metaphor sometimes as I write. There comes a moment when a writer knows he’s found his story. Finding a story is not unlike finding the balance on a wire or ledge. Drift even a bit to the left or right, and you lose the balance that is your story. Find the perfect balance, and you can travel effortlessly to the end.
It is not unusual to have other people help you find that balance. Other people will be quick to remind you of what you probably already know: that your story is not yet working as effortlessly as it can. This is always how it works for me. I show my work to people mostly so that they can confirm what I was too unwilling to admit to myself.
Eventually, however, I find it. When I find it, just like Petit, I know I can make it to the other side. When I’ve found it, I know what belongs in the story and what does not. This is all I really need to know. Without that knowing, the story can be cluttered with a lot of well written but unnecessary filler. Once I’ve found the story’s balance, I know when something belongs in it, and when something does not.
What a relief this always is. Now, I can at last let my story be the simple thing it was always meant to be. Now I can end the guessing and hoping, and remember that balance is the natural state once a thing knows what it is.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.