One of the strangest things about writing well is that it requires two different zones in the brain—rigor and recklessness—simultaneously.
I was reading an interview with Carole Maso about a week ago (as I am getting ready to dive into her newest novel) and this quote stopped me. Maso was speaking in reference to teaching and that it requires the same type of creative work as writing. She was explaining why she only teaches one semester a year. But it’s this one sentence that keeps ringing in my ears. It keeps running circles in my head.
I remember my first fiction workshop professor talking about the way that coming into a workshop, as a writer, requires that you have enough ego so as to think that people should read what you write, but also be able to let go of your ego enough that you actually listen and take in what others will say about your writing. And that really is the tightrope of writing workshops – believe in yourself enough to show up and demand respect, but also know how to admit that something isn’t working or could work better, to be open to criticism and yet full enough of yourself to filter out the advice that does not serve the story you are telling.
I’ve always thought of revising as the same sort of tightrope. Except you have narrowed the field of who reads your work. Or you’re listening exclusively to the little editor you’ve cultivated through experience and practice and thoughtful revising and reading. You are simultaneously believing in the words you have, as they exist, while trying to see where, exactly where, you can clip and tweak and fill out. Like an intricate topiary that requires care and attention and balance and tenderness.
Rigor and recklessness, though. About the act of writing. Such perfect words.
Wrestling in my mind. Dancing when I write.
Since reading that quote, I find myself picturing a stick figure line drawing of myself sitting at the keyboard while a smearing of charcoal is filling in the lines, edging outside of them, too, but circling back in to create a child-like drawing of what it is to balance out the free-minded spilling of story while keeping one hand on the support beam that is the structure each story inherently forms. To feel that form and wrench yourself to it while still floating perilously at the edge of it, to not be wed to it, to not miss if that beam bends and turns before you can even see the change.
If my brain had a clever youtube animation video of what it sees when I read those words, it would be that cartoon image: me, spare and simple – a black and white stick girl with a triangle skirt and a wide-tipped loop of action carefully veering in and out of the lines.
I don’t have much else to say about that quote. Not now.
Except that it seems right, to me.
Rigor. And recklessness. A writer’s tango.
Quote is from Chronogram: