Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Talking Through Wood

Talking through Wood

Writing is like talking to someone through wood--oak, cherry, maple. You have an idea, a feeling, a theme, maybe a character and a plot. You want to present all of those elements cleanly and clearly to the person next to you, and that's when you realize that there is a block of wood between you.

“Hello out there,” you say.

“Huh?” the other person says. “What?”

But you don't give up. You write and you write and you write. You revise and edit. You shine and polish. You read it to someone else, who seems to get it. And then you present your story to the person next to you. The reader says, "What were you trying to say about love?"

In your mind, love was theme not to missed, the theme that arced and sang. To the reader, it was a mess of emotion and wasted space.

You try again, and again, and maybe the wood shaves itself down to the very finest balsa wood. It's still there between the two of you, but the reader nods, holds up your manuscript, nods.

"Good stuff," the reader says, walking away, looking for someone else to talk to, another person with a big old block of wood next to her head.

How exhausting.

But the truth is, if the reader doesn't see the love in my story, I haven't done my job. There is nothing wrong with the reader. I am just communicating to him in the hardest way possible. Through words where all my emotion, feelings, body language, voice, and tone must come through print. I can't smile during the encouraging sections or wave my hands during the fight scene. I can’t drag you aside and whisper in your ear all that I was thinking about while writing. I can’t hand over the Cliffs Notes of my story. All my words need to move the reader and the words alone must do the dirty, clean, hard, wonderful work.

I fail all the time.

This week in my composition classes, I was talking about revision and editing. I happened to have the manuscript that I'm working on with me, a hard copy of the pieces in the collection. I've been reading through my work it as my students do their in-class writing, and I picked it up to show them all the scribbles I made on every page. I showed them all the corrections and additions, and then I said, "This that I’m writing all over is probably the sixth draft of each piece."

“No way,” Alex said.

“This is not possible,” Sun Jung said.

All my classes were horrified. They didn't want to hear about my revision process at all. They like to look at the pristine beauty of their Word words on the computer screen and then click on print. Once. They staple the pages together and then turn in their papers. At that point, they and I are communicating with a Mount Diablo between us, a mountain of iron and dirt and clay. Often, I have no idea what they are saying, and they are incensed that this is the case. They imagine that along with their essays they've turned in a tiny version of themselves that speaks to me as I read: "See that paragraph?” the little person says. “That's where I get serious. Yes, yes. The grammar isn't so good. Keep going. Look how I used the word 'adversary.' Works well, huh? Smile now! I'm making a joke, but just ignore the spelling error."

After I am done reading, I have to put all the little people into a box and give them a sharp talking to, turning them back to their bigger selves the next day. "No more little people!” I say.

“They eat too much and make noise all night" I shout. "Put the information in the writing!"

One day, I hope to write so well that there is only a tiny silvery sliver of almost nothing between me and my reader, but I don't imagine that's the way it will go. Mostly, I know I will be here, typing away, trying to say it the best I can, knowing that the reader will never see what I see completely. But I want to get close. Very close.


Michele L. said...

Hi Jessica,

Oh to be a poet, an author, a writer, a classical lyrist, is something I would love to achieve. But I don't have your rare talent of weaving a story so compelling that you can't put it down. Your stories are so creative and unique. You have touched me, and many other readers through your words in your novels. You might struggle at times with what you want to say, but in the end, it all comes together to create a story so moving, touching, that it stays with you long after the last page has been read. I love your books Jessica!

Jessica Barksdale Inclan said...

Thank you so much, Michele. (I keep trying to post a thanks, and I hope only one is showing up! Blogger hates me today.).

It's so nice to know the meaning has gotten through the wood.