WRITING WELL 6 - desire

by Susan Weber

In my youth, I learned to speak German. After I studied grammar and vocabulary, I had to go where the language permeated everything. It took years of hearing fluent German and blurting my comical, incompetent attempts before I knew myself to be a German speaker. Although it was a gradual process, looking back it seems as though at some point a switch was thrown and light poured into my brain. Maybe the majority of cells had been holding out for me to stick with English. But the immigrant words and phrases kept showing up until my nativistic cells said, okay, we live in a pluralistic culture now. Give it up. We’re bilingual.

Something similar may be in play when learning to write. I work my way through books and stories of the great fiction writers, and I bow. To the craft, the labor, the intellect, the soul. I lose myself in worlds built entirely of words. Sometimes I try to imagine this writer at her table, that one at his desk, the other on a bar stool adhering one word to the next, letting in the immigrants. But more often than not, as I read, the writers disappear. I suspect this is their intent. The more they vanish from their writing, the more their stories come to life.

It may be that writers are not in fact the gods and goddesses they handily impersonate in the making of fiction. They seem mortal enough when I read about them. They get schooling, or they do not. They make optimal choices followed by disastrous decisions. They love, they despair; they have children or they don’t. What does of course set them apart is intense desire to think, feel, read, write, invent new stories. They share a deep commitment to their pen, and how to make it speak without a stammer.

I have heard actors compare thespian skill to a well-toned muscle. Comedians have described how a group of their kind riffs in a shared language; their brains are wired for humor. We more somber folk, or are we simply literal in thought, appreciate but barely speak the comedic tongue. Poets and musicians, well, that’s a karmic mystery, isn't it. And what to say of dancing ere we dance.

Do I have time before I die to learn to write as writers do? I’ll know the answer when the light pours in, or when it never does. Meanwhile stories swarm around me, and a brain watches, and a pen scratches, smooth or awkward, depending on the day.

Photo by Eusebius CC BY 3.0