Crepes and Stories
I had an actual handmade crepe for the first time the other day. This was at a cheery, hole-in-the-wall creperie where I could stand at the counter and watch as the young woman poured the batter on the Frisbee-sized black griddle, swirled this creamy pool thin with a wooden spreader, then deftly flipped the crepe with two steel, knife-like spatulas. When she was done she handed me what was, for all I could tell, a perfect crepe. I was certain she would make another hundred exactly like it before clocking out that day. As I ate my crepe, the student in me reviewed her crepe making as if it would soon be my turn to have a go at it. I would want to make a crepe exactly like hers. As it happens, I had just come from teaching a writing workshop. Very little writing ever happens in the workshops I teach. Instead, we just talk. I have nothing against writing workshops where students actually write, but sometimes all that writing gets in the way of understanding what actually obstructs our best work. You can have craft up to your eyeballs, but if you have forgotten why you write or where your writing actually comes from, your craft will be as useless as that creperie without customers.
It is easy to understand why we would be tempted to teach ourselves to write stories the way we teach ourselves to make crepes, or paint houses, or multiply fractions, or bake cakes, or any of the million little things we humans do while we’re living on earth. But a story or a poem or an essay is not a crepe, in exactly the same way you are not a crepe. The crepe maker’s job is to recreate the crepe experience again, and again, and again. The writer’s job is to summon something new again, and again, and again.
Which is why I tend not to do much writing in the workshops I teach. Even though making new things is what humans were built to do, even though it’s all we do, we remain continuously uncertain of our ability to do so. So I teach workshops where I help students remember who they are so they can get on with the business of being who they are. You and your stories are not the crepe, nor the crepe maker, nor the creperie, nor the customers, but all four wrapped into a perfect whole, and nothing new is necessary to complete you, even as you seek to complete something new.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.