The Infinities of Writing

I read something recently that talked about how writing is the only creative art where a huge part of the culture is how difficult it is to sit down and actually do it. Most creative arts people actually want to do and enjoy doing, but writing culture includes a lot of “and now I am wrestling with myself trying to get down to actually working on this thing that I supposedly enjoy doing.” Certainly I’m no exception to that, but it’s been getting easier to deal with lately, in part because I changed how I think about it.

The thing that’s hard for me in writing is that it’s perfect and infinite in my head. The story could be any of a hundred things, and they’re all wonderful and perfect, and it could go in any direction I choose to take it. There are thousands of versions, usually I’ve thought of all of them, and usually I’m thinking in high-concept: “I want to do a story about saving the world and equality and relationships, and it’s going to have a diverse cast and well-rounded characters and I’m going to avoid all of these common tropes and be truly original!”

Writing it down collapses the waveform. I go from having infinitely many possibilities to having one precise analysis of one of these visions at one moment in time, and usually it’s a pale imitation of whatever my high concept was. There’s actually a wonderful example of this line of thought in The Hours (the movie; I’ve yet to read the book) when Richard is telling Clarissa what he wanted to write about: “No matter what you start with it ends up being so much less.” You can’t write down the vision in a way that lives up to the vision; it’s impossible.

The way I’ve been getting around this is thinking of it as putting into a form that can be shared. Having the vision of these characters and these stories (or in the case of poetry, this overpowering emotion) is wonderful, but it’s not actually useful if it isn’t in a form that can be shared with others, and until we perfect telepathy, I can’t just communicate the vision. Even if what I write down is a pale imitation, even if it’s one moment of one slice that could never communicate the whole, I still have more than I did before, because now I have it in a form that I can show to other people and try to communicate it to them. And as I keep trying, I get better at communicating the vision. I communicate a little more of it each time.

I may never get to the point where I’m satisfied with my work. I don’t think writers do, at least not the ones possessed by visions. But I’m communicating a little more of what I see each time, and even if what I’m putting out there is a pale imitation of what I want to put out there, isn’t that better than never putting anything out there at all? Isn’t it better that I’m trying to share my vision?

(This post, by the way, is a self-demonstrating example. It is so much less than what I wanted to communicate to you about writing– but hey, I’ve got a blog post up discussing something substantial, so maybe you will all read and comment and tell other people about it, and I will get people who want to read my writing.)

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