Thursday, April 01, 2010

Inside Then Outside

I snapped this shot last week as I was preparing to journal on a misty morning in Boston. When I think of all the places in the world that journal has been, all the spaces in which I've written volumes that no one other than God will see, my soul grows warm and grateful. I think of David's realization of the beauty of his life:  

"The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places. Indeed, my inheritance is beautiful to me." (Psalm 16:6)

Right on, brother. I couldn't agree more.

For the past several weeks, I've been slowly reading Gail Sher's book on the writing life, One Continuous Mistake. Two quotes stood out to me recently:

"When you hack away at your writing and it refuses to ping, it means you still have something to learn--either about you or your subject, your feelings about your subject, or, more likely, both."


"Good writing happens cyclically, inside then outside, inside then outside. When it finally 'pings,' we simply bow."

During my recent time at the Story Course (of which I'll have much to say in coming posts), Robert McKee said that all writers are skeptics by nature. I don't believe this is true. I think it is more accurate to say that all writers are intrinsically honest--at least, all the compelling writers are. They tell what they see, as they see it, and convey its effect on them in a way that to others seems naked and powerful.

To do this, a writer needs to know something of the subject (actually, more than merely "something"...a writer needs what McKee calls an "Author's Knowledge" of a subject, a "god like" understanding of the matter at hand), and also be clear and honest about the subject's effect on him. A writer lives embedded ("in bed with") not only the subject itself, but also his experience of it--clearly, vulnerably, without hype or pretense.

To write in this way, I believe a writer needs to develop the capacity to be quiet and at rest--to understand the cyclical nature of this deeper creative process (as Sher describes it), and be content to look deep for as long as it takes to find the connections that have not yet been named, explore his own feelings about it all, and when at last he deeply, truly has something to say, to say it.

This is perhaps the difference between a writer and a pontificator: "Deep calls to Deep"

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