Why Writers Have to Live

Recent trip to Newport, Rhode Island on a crisp, autumn day-- one of the first of the season. This taken outside of the storied Vanderbilt mansion, also called The Breakers. In that moment, with the waves crashing below me and warm cup of apple-cinnamon tea in hand, I felt really good. It's the little things, right?

Recent trip to Newport, Rhode Island on a crisp, autumn day– one of the first of the season. This taken outside of the storied Vanderbilt mansion, also called The Breakers. In that moment, with the waves crashing below me and warm cup of apple-cinnamon tea in hand, I felt really good. It’s the little things, right?

 

Just thinking about this while midnight noshing on some literary goodness…

I’m in the middle of reading author  George Saunder’s essay in The New Yorker titled “My Writing Education: A Timeline”. He  recounts the moments, outside of his formal graduate work, that shaped his approach to writing.

In this particular anecdote, Saunders  recalls being asked by a teacher to simply tell an interesting story allowed. Off the cuff. No planning, foresight, or carefully crafted under or overstatement. Here is the light bulb that went off in that moment:

We are supposed to be– are required to be– interesting. We’re not only allowed to think a bout audience, we’d better. What we’re doing in writing is not all that different from what we’ve been doing all our lives. Using our personalities as a way of coping. Writing is about charm,  about finding and accessing and honing one’s particular charm.

I’m struck by this passage because it explains how as writers,  we arrive at the often inexplicable sweet spot–that electrifying feeling we get when we’ve stalked the muse endlessly and she finally she emerges in our writing.

Good writing doesn’t necessarily require million dollars words, elaborate construction or clever turns of phrase– it is charming. Entertaining. It makes us look at life differently, and for the change of vista, we are grateful. Good writing is the distilled thoughts of an interesting person, with an interesting voice and an interesting story to tell.

That is it.

So while it’s important to practice and hone the craft, sort of like a ballerina approaches the barre each day for the same routine of rudimentary exercises, we have to embrace life, no matter how great or not-so-great it is. When we stumble in our writing, it’s not because we are truly without words, but we are denying our authentic self. We are essentially hearing one thing, and writing the other.

This concept  feels  liberating. It is comforting to know that everything that happens in the journey, both the agony and ecstasy, are making us  better writers– and better humans. (The two are intertwined)

It also explains why my mother, a doctor by trade, is such a damn good story teller. She gets so emotionally invested in her stories– or rather dramatic monologues– that as you watch her eyes pop open and her arms flail this way and that, you can’t resist being carried away. She loves to tell stories and her excitement is enchanting. She tells stories like an excited child– who sometimes takes forever to get to the point…. But really, it’s not the story that pulls you in. It’s  her buoyant charm.

Human beings rely on story and archetypal characters to understand the inner and outer workings of their own lives. We need them for more than entertainment. Stories help us relate to one another, and relate to ourselves. The nuisances can boggle the mind at times– inhibiting it from what it does best.

If you want to write well, tell a damn good story.

As Saunders writes:

…literature is a form of fondness-for-life. It is love for life taking verbal form.

xo,

Ayesha

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