The painful process of wordsmithing
Or how to build narrative coherence
I just called it a day on today’s article for The Aleph report. I’ve been bleeding words for the past three hours. And it’s marched poorly. I had to force myself to sit down several times; to ditch my phone more times than I want to remember and to stop staring at Facebook. Not sure why but I was expecting it to spark my imagination. Hint: It didn’t. Shocker, I know.
All this got me thinking about how hard the writing process is. Some days you’re inspired. You’re plethoric. Words pour from your fingertips as fast as you can type (it’s ironic that I’m dumping these sentences in a breeze). When you’re in the zone, writing seems second nature. When adequately galvanized, it’s easy to preach the virtues of writing. But that’s the sober self, talking after weeks of drinking.
Other days is hell. The first sentence makes you ooze. There is no way to get over the first five words. You want to be snappy but clear. You try something. It’s not clear. Delete. Repeat. Same result. This cycle can go on for hours. Sometimes you stand up, walk, pace the room. Maybe stretching out helps in some way. It doesn’t. After a while, you tell yourself today it’s not a good day for writing. It’s a lie. Yes, there are days you’re more tired than others. However, the truth lies under the lines.
When something is hard to write it’s because you haven’t worked it long enough. There are myriad novels behind each word. And there is a world of work behind the coherence of a text. The more intimate you’re with, not only what you want to say, but how you want to say it, the easier it becomes.
Writing an emotional piece is easy for me. I’m intimate with what I want to say and the style, if you wish, is pretty much a stream of thought. There are no facts, only emotions. Connecting emotions, like pearls in a necklace, comes second nature to me. We all have emotional experiences, which makes building a coherent path between them easier. It’s like walking down a well-trotted path.
Connecting despaired facts is another matter altogether. You’re dropped in the middle of the forest. No path in sight. You have a general sense of where you are and where you want to go, but nothing else to go with. Research illuminates different milestones along the way, but it doesn’t tell you how to reach them. It also doesn’t aid in the order.
Some milestones might be closer than others geographically speaking, but might be pretty far away regarding accessibility. The path might continue in a straight line, but you might hit a ravine. Yes, you see the path on the other side. You can taste how you’ll scamper down that sweet meadow, but you first need to reach it. In a way, it’s like a mirage. You want to reach that place so much, that you get distracted by the illusion. Here your imagination scatters, and you lose track of the direction you came from. When you look back, you can’t recognize your pass.
It takes time to recover and find your bearings. Now you need to figure out how to cross that ravine. In the process of exploring for a way through, you stumble onto another milestone. And just like that, the trail takes you somewhere else. Away from the ravine and into a different wilderness.
Along the way, you’ll skip milestones and take shortcuts and jog until it feels right. Sometimes, feeling right means getting back to the start, hitting ‘delete all’ and start anew. It’s a painful and laborious process, one that demands an ironclad focus on the final goal. Walking away from it only delays the inevitable.
When all it’s done and said, you end up with a draft. Those pages are the starting point. You’ve traveled its ink rivers and climbed its paragraphs. Sentence after sentence, you’ve stacked your knowledge, intuitions, and feelings. Your journey isn’t over yet though. Looking down from the summit, you can distinguish dirty paths, disturbed roads, and sunken bridges. Now it’s time for some harsh editing and conceptual engineering. Missing connections have to be drawn. Concepts need to be reshuffled, and transitions must be smoothed.
It’s a long way to the safety of home. And even then, there isn’t such thing as home. Words build sentences. Sentences form paragraphs, which turn into pages. Pages that can only show but an instant picture of what the writer went through. The storm, meanwhile, rages on.