Listening and Writing

With my children gone for a few days, I vacuumed the considerable debris from the living room floor and then took my ream of a manuscript and laid it on the wood floor, in piles of chapters and scenes. I walked around, bent down, lifted a page, then sat on the floor and read. I was immersed in the territory of a novel-in-draft-writing. I wasn’t looking for a good sentence, a decent paragraph, a chapter with potential. Instead, I aimed to listen, to look down deep, and figure out what may lie at the dead-center of this book.

My laptop was shut; the clock turned to the wall. I determined not to answer the phone unless my girls called. I had a good three-inch stack of a draft, much likely to be discarded along the way, mere steps to get to the end.  To listen and read so hard, to come at this work without prejudice or prejudgement is difficult at best. At last, I began to scribble, notes for characters, a possible plot-line arc, and then, at the end, I wrote one true word: hunger. The book is about hunger.

That was most of Sunday. I painted a few kitchen windows and weeded the garden.

In the early evening, my girls called. I left my basket half-filled with tomatoes, and leaned against the garden post, listening for the heart of their stories.

We are afraid of writing, even those of us who love it. And there are parts of it we hate. The necessary mess, the loss of control, its ability to betray us… how to feel at ease with all this? How just to let one’s work be?… The answers you want can come only from the work itself. It drives the spooks away.

–– Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark

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