Saturday, January 07, 2006

Thoughts on Writing

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” E. L. Doctorow.

Garrison Keillor talked about E. L. Doctorow on his birthday on January 6. He also related the following story:

Doctorow sat around for a year (after 1971) trying to come up with an idea for his next novel. He said, "I wrote endless pages that didn't take me anywhere. I got so desperate that I started to write about the wall that I face when I write. As it happened, that was the wall in my study in New Rochelle, N.Y. That house was built in 1906. So I started to think about the house and that street and what it must have looked like in 1906."

Not sure if he had a story or not, Doctorow began going through history books to learn about what was happening in New York in 1906. He went through books of photographs to see what the streets looked like and the clothes people wore. He purposely didn't try to look for any particular story but what emerged was his novel Ragtime (1975) which he later said was the easiest book he ever wrote.

Since hearing this, I have been looking at my own writing process, trying to figure out what distinguishes the days when I am posting on the hour (to borrow Velvet’s phrase) from the days when nothing seems interesting enough to write about. Just what makes the difference?

I think it has a lot to do with my state of engagement with my life – either happy or angry or frustrated. In any of those emotional states, I have so much material that I could always produce a story. It’s those times when I feel disconnected from my feelings, depressed, and just plain sleepy that I am devoid of words.

For example, that day several weeks ago when I made my first visit to the Nuclear Meds Dept of WHC resulted in pure depression. It was not until the next day when the story could be told. On the other hand, my live Blogger encounters result in a certain drunken euphoria that dismisses sleep and always spawns a story.

Just as Doctorow’s focus on his study wall resulted in his most famous novel, I find that it’s often not the great ideas, but rather just the simple observations that are of the greatest interest to those in the Blogosphere. I loved DC Cookie’s story about wearing around an “M” on her shirt the other day and finding that no one told her about it. For the most part, our Blogs are just about our lives, and we all share some common needs that are fertile ground for an infinite number of posts.


Blogger Jamy said...

I've found the same thing--it's not a lack of material, but my state of mind, that makes writing easier or harder. Some of my favorite posts are short ones. They may not fit my "theme" but I figure any material is better than no material.

For example, this is probably my shortest post, but it still makes me chuckle.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Jamy -- I love it! You didn't need paragraphs to paint this picture. Just a simple observation...

11:41 PM  

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