Friday, December 22, 2006

On writing: Unleashing your inner dragon

The New Yorker is published too often; many times a fresh issue slaps into my mailbox before I've even opened the last one. I've been known to throw the darn things away because I begin to feel anxious when my stack of periodicals-to-be-read towers much higher than six inches. But I perused the current issue over my tea and toast this morning, and I'm glad I didn't miss Orhan Pamuk's Nobel lecture, "My Father's Suitcase." Here's one of the parts that speaks to writers:

A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is. When I speak of writing, the image that comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or a literary tradition; it is the person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table, and, alone, turns inward. Amid his shadows, he builds a new world with words. This man—or this woman—may use a typewriter, or profit from the ease of a computer, or write with a pen on paper, as I do. As he writes, he may drink tea or coffee, or smoke cigarettes. From time to time, he may rise from his table to look out the window at the children playing in the street, or, if he is lucky, at trees and a view, or even at a black wall. He may write poems, or plays, or novels, as I do. But all these differences arise only after the crucial task is complete—after he has sat down at the table and patiently turned inward. To write is to transform that inward gaze into words, to study the worlds into which we pass when we retire into ourselves, and to do so with patience, obstinacy, and joy.

As I sit at my table, for days, months, years, slowly adding words to empty pages, I feel as if I were bringing into being that other person inside me, in the same way that one might build a bridge or a dome, stone by stone. As we hold words in our hands, like stones, sensing the ways in which each is connected to the others, looking at them sometimes from afar, sometimes from very close, caressing them with our fingers and the tips of our pens, weighing them, moving them around, year in and year out, patiently and hopefully, we create new worlds.

The writer’s secret is not inspiration—for it is never clear where that comes from—but stubbornness, endurance....

The writer's secret isn't talent, either. I believe that any fairly articulate and well-read individual with a bit of imagination can learn to write--but only if that person is maniacally determined to do so. Wanting to be published "really, really bad" isn't going to get a writer anywhere if she lacks the courage necessary to sacrifice herself to the dragon--that fire-breathing, all-consuming passion to write and learn and keep writing, even after the cruelest rejections.

Perhaps some of you reading this post have already made New Year's resolutions to "get serious" about your writing in 1997. If by "getting serious" you mean joining a critique group or taking a class or attending a conference or even producing a certain number of pages each week, I'm going to risk offending you by suggesting that those are things anyone could do. They require only a little time, perhaps a bit of money, and a certain amount of discipline, but no passion. And if you're a writer without passion, I predict you're never going to set the literary world or even your own little genre on fire.

Do you have the guts to dig deeper? To expose your raw self to public inspection? Let's get back to Orhan Pamuk:

For me, to be a writer is to acknowledge the secret wounds that we carry inside us, wounds so secret that we ourselves are barely aware of them, and to patiently explore them, know them, illuminate them, own them, and make them a conscious part of our spirit and our writing.

Not all of the truths inside you will be ugly. Some of them will be beautiful. As an inspirational romance writer, I draw on both; my books' happy endings are enhanced by the suffering that precedes them. One of my secret delights is knowing that while readers may guess, they'll never know with any certainty which parts of my books are "me." My aim is to provoke readers to examine their own secrets as they read. Yes, some of you may guess correctly some of the time and learn things about me that I'd rather you didn't. But that's the chance we take when we unleash our passions--what I like to call the inner dragon--and write.

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Animom said...

What an encouraging entry! I am printing it out to share with my writing daughter and friend. With fierce determination it is possible.

Sharon Hinck said...

Brenda, I loved your comment, "My aim is to provoke readers to examine their own secrets as they read."

I need to remember that my writing is about serving the story AND the reader...not about proving how daring I can be by my honest depiction of the dark and evil, and not about showing off how lyrical I can be with my description of the beautiful.

When I, as the writer, disappear, and the reader has a personal, visceral encounter with the story - THAT'S when I feel some success as an author. :-)

Great post!

Paul said...


Great post, I like that term, the inner dragon, I think that is were the honest, open and real come forth, even the vulnerable.

Most of what I have writen has come from that which I have experienced and gone through in my life.

I get a lot of comments, saying it was the right word, at the right time, ministering to a wounded heart and to me that makes it all worth it.

Hope this makes sense!

It is always a blessing for visit here!

Writing for the King,


Craig Alan Hart said...

I think what grabbed me most was this: "Do you have the guts to dig deeper? To expose your raw self to public inspection?" That's huge, because it applies not only to revealing your own hurts as an author/human, but also to the whole idea of writing to begin with.

When I write (truly, write. Meaning, what I feel inside), there's always a risk that someone will reject what I've written, thereby rejecting me personally. I think this is why writers, and other artists as well, feel so threatened by criticism. Their work is who they are, so if someone tells me they thought my last work was stupid, then they basically are telling me I am.

Hope Chastain said...

This made me think of the writer who said, "Writing is easy. Just open a vein." (Of course I can't remember who said it, now that I need to!)

Brenda Coulter said...

Thanks, everyone. Isn't it nice that we're all crazy together?