J asked me today how my writing process was different from those of other writers, and talking about it with her got me thinking of the opposite – of ways in which it’s the same. I might have different levels of output, different approaches to drafting and editing, different means of publication, and so on compared to you, but I do think that there are qualities of writing that are universal.
For one, I think every writer partakes in that thing that I’ve called the “fictional dream.” A story must unfold for first the writer, even if that unfolding happens nearly simultaneously as she’s telling the story. As this unfolding happens, she sees things she had not anticipated; she knows more about the story as she works to tell it – even if that learning does not necessarily, in the end, lead to fewer unknowns.
Here’s another, perhaps a bit less obvious: Every piece of writing is shaped, to some degree, by the place and time where the writer is living. We’re good at absorbing culture, reading what’s in our environment. It’s not just events in the news but also more-invisible forces. Even when the writer completely ignores the news, ditches her smartphone for a dumb one, goes off alone to a cabin in the woods in upstate New York, the circumstances that move her to do those things will affect (and effect) the way she writes and things she writes about. (This is why I also believe that every story is, in some way, about its own creation, because the struggle (or ease) of writing the story is so present, so top of mind in the writer’s experience, that it inevitable seeps into the work.)
One more: Every writing project is different, and each has its own life cycle. Some stories see publication, while others wallow in drawers made of wood or notes in the cloud or exist as a faint sequence of unlit brain cells. But every project does have its own life, and for me (and maybe I’m unusually in this regard) knowing it has a life cycle, and reminding myself of this life cycle … it’s ultimately reassuring.
Reassuring because it’s less lonely. Because it makes me feel like I belong to something more encompassing than I’d first thought. Reassuring the way the changing seasons are reassuring. As in: Things move on, and so do I.