My thoughts are a bit hard to pin down this morning. I intend for these Tuesday morning blog posts to capture what’s important or relevant for me in the moment, without planning too much ahead of time. For some reason this morning, my thoughts keep going one place and I immediately start doubting that I should write about where they go. Now that I’ve said that, I will have to write about where they’re going, but it’s interesting to notice the hesitation.
When my alarm went off and I stumbled to the bathroom, I looked forward to sitting down to write. I thought about the excitement of creating something that didn’t exist before. At 6:00am, none of these words existed. At 6:00am, I didn’t know what would happen when my fingers met the keyboard. It’s magic, really: creating something tangible and permanent out of the electrical signals and energy pulsing in my brain. With any luck, this product is something reflective of my innermost self. Writing allows that innermost self to speak and make itself known in the world. Writing makes it easier for me to dig in, to expose, to unearth what is within me. I suppose that could be interpreted as hiding behind the words; instead, I think the words allow me to put my voice into the world in a way that helps me be more honest, more pure.
The place my thoughts kept going was back to Sunday: I took a six-hour writing workshop. When I signed up a few weeks ago, I was looking for a bit of a kick-start to a daily writing practice, to develop some stories that have been bouncing around my brain, to allow myself the time and space to explore my writing. I was especially drawn to the name of this particular workshop: “Finding your Voice.” That title resonated with me on multiple levels: first, that it is through writing that I find my voice and give it a microphone into the world. Second, writing through events and interactions helps me hear the voices of other people and brings me to a point of better understanding and sometimes even acceptance of what is going on around me. Finally, through writing about how people become the way they are, a few characters have introduced themselves to me, have spoken to me.
I’ve heard interviews with authors, where they explain this phenomenon. They don’t sit down with a formed-out character in mind, but through writing the character reveals itself. Almost like watching a child grow up: over time, layers are removed and this unknown person slowly starts filling into the space they occupy in the world. There isn’t a way to rush it, or control it (although we all try); rather, we must nurture and encourage to allow this person, this being, to grow in their own time.
I’d hear this sort of thing and I’d pretty much think it was bullshit. I mean, really, how can a character that I imagine and lives only in my mind “reveal” herself to me? I made her up, I control her, I can plot out her life and outline her story. What’s the point of writing a story if it’s yet one more thing out of my control?
Turns out, it’s not bullshit. Turns out, that this character—and perhaps all characters—are not in and of themselves the goal of a story. They are vessels through which I can explore my own voice. By seeking to understand the whys of this character, rather than the whats, her story falls into place. That is why there is this sense of her appearing rather than being formed, and that the more I write not about her plot line but about her voice, the more she materializes on the page.
Writing this character lets me do that which I cannot with real people. I cannot write out the voice of other humans, I cannot be inside their being and know their true intentions and their own innermost thoughts. But I can step back, I can look at them with compassion that their voice comes with a story. I may never understand their story in fleeting interactions, but I can try to see their voice, their story almost as a physical aura surrounding them, affecting their perception of the world and how they move through it. I can bring patience that maybe parts of their story haven’t fully developed yet, that they struggle as we all do to know what our voices are telling us. And I can be open to them teaching me something, perhaps something about the world or something about myself. That is the common thread with writing, which makes it both exhilarating and frightening—as I get to know a person (real or fiction), parts of my own self are revealed and not always in the ways I expect. Getting comfortable with this discomfort is difficult and something that has the potential to stop me in my tracks. But I will try.