Thursday, May 15, 2008

Watching Myself Write

Here I am last week holding a canoe paddle that had been hand-carved from a single piece of wood. It is a beautiful thing to hold and to look at and it is beautiful in function, too, and I was aware that I was holding--and beholding--something that a skilled crafts person had labored over for many hours.
It occurs to me now (why it hadn't occurred to me before, I don't know), that, as I was reading a short story in the New Yorker, that the writer, the gifted person who had woven the tale, had labored hard at the very words I was now reading. He/she had stared at their scribblings, wracked his/her brain, re-wrote, hit "delete," got up and got a drink of water, sat back down, crossed his/her legs, uncrossed them, put his/her head in his/her hands, kneaded his/her forehead, sighed--and then, maybe, said, "Ah, that's it. That's just right."

And it was just right, because later an editor at a major magazine read it and thought the same thing, and then another editor higher up the editorial ladder read it, too, and thought so. Then it was selected for publication in that prestigious magazine and thousands of people read it and as they read it, they thought, these words are just right. How did the writer to it?

Like being able to carve a paddle, play a musical instrument well, or draw wonderfully, this is magical stuff we are doing when we write well. Think of it: pure magic. It comes from nothing and, if it's good enough, it makes peoples' blood run fast, inspires and thus changes lives. And very few people can do it. While I was reading just now, I was aware that I was looking at the same words, in the same brilliant order, that a gifted person the likes of William Faulkner, William Shakespeare, Pearl Buck, or Jane Austin sat and looked at and cogitated on, maybe for hours. When we read the writing of genius, we participate, in a some small way, in the creative process that genius experienced.