WRITING WELL 2 - tunnels and light

by Susan Weber

I would very much prefer that everyone I love were healthy and happy and out of harm's way. But at present, much is the heartbreak beyond my control.

My friend, her own plate heaped with recent loss, asks me how I keep writing in a time of stress. Would anyone blame me if I cut myself some slack in the making of art right now?

It’s a gentle question I’ve thought of too. One answer is control. When life gives me little power, I’m the more in need of art, which gives me much. William Zinsser in his book On Writing Well says, “all writing is ultimately a question of solving a problem.” To make a story work, I control everything from point of view and pacing to tense and tone and structure. I get to finesse the elements into a unified whole. This palpable control strengthens me to handle my impotence elsewhere.

Making time to write is like remembering to breathe when I’m scared or overwrought. I used to think joy was a random gift, and sometimes it is pure magic. But might it be muscle too, ready to respond if I keep it in shape? The labor of art—be it cooking, curing cancer, or calligraphy—is a labor of joy. Art has its own endorphins. In a chronically chaotic world, any modicum of joy I can squirt into my brain is a plus.

Art improves the sight lines, too. When I’m handed the wrong end of a telescope, I might look through expecting vastness, but all I see is the pinched and puny navel mocking me. Fiction exists in the land of what-ifs. I may not have the wherewithal to flip the telescope, but this pen is a fingernail, a chisel, a power drill for widening the edges of my peephole. On a good day, I can walk right through.

Photo by Sb2s3 CC BY-SA 4.0