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QUINTESSENCE

Why Write?

The story chooses you, the image comes and then the emotional frame. You don't have a choice about writing the story. There's a filter at work which says this is or is not a story...I think a story ideally comes to the writer; the writer shouldn't be casting the net out, searching for something to write about.
- Raymond Carver

In any work that is truly creative, I believe, the writer cannot be omniscient about the effects that he proposes to produce. The suspense of a novel is not only in the reader, but in the novelist, who is intensely curious about what will happen to the hero.
- Mary McCarthy

We do not write in order to be understood, we write in order to understand.
- C. Day-Lewis

The period in which a writer awaits review of a work in the pre-publication stages is nearly unbearable. What has been until this moment completely within your control - your story, characters, the work and its process - what has been a private endeavor, full of angst and determination, faces it's first critical review in the publishing venue. Someone else will now determine whether your beloved project moves ahead, or stalls. So you wait. And in waiting the devils take root in your soul. Was it ready? Why would anyone read this anyway? Wait, can I get it back? To be honest, for every success or failed effort I have had in my writing life, I still do not know any more what makes a story succeed than not. As Raymond Carver put it - the story chooses you. And then you do your best by it.

For the novel writer, the process of building a book is ultimately a zero sum game. The novel is difficult to condense to the equivalent of an abbreviated film treatment or proposal. There is no way to "float" a story - it must be written, nailed down, breathed to life. The novel has a crazy organic originality that must be seen to be believed. Organic, yet divergent interior paths within the writing process become a sober burden for the novelist. What if your beautiful idea failed in execution? Choosing poorly amongst your possible choices of character, landscape, plot or word smithing? A novel cannot be easily recast. Each sentence leads down a path that creates its own next sentence, change of relationship, plot point or conflict. Characters evolve on the page. If a story collapses, it may or may not be capable of resuscitation.

As much as I fear and dread this phase toward publication, I have great respect for the review process. As the writer I certainly lack perspective - I have lived inside the story, grown familiar with my characters, forgiven them their weaknesses, encouraged them to bust out on the page. Only a cool clear head can truly assess the cumulative power of what is there. Is the story boring? Thrilling? Moving? Does it lag here or there? This early critique determines the viability of editing intervention. What more is needed, and where? The very thing readers ultimately appreciate is a well-edited book.

As I wait through this process, restlessly banging around my office doing all the ridiculous tasks side-railed during the writing of this novel, feel kindly towards me, won't you? Of course I hope the response is an enthusiastic thumbs up, but the risks are high: I love that complicated runt of the publication world, the character novel. Without spy rings, explosions, gun battles, or fantasy landscapes, the words must work truly hard indeed. Literary worth is hard to define, but we know it when we read it. It's a hard bar for me to reach, honestly. Always has been. Still, every writer writes for the reader - for that fleeting, shared private dialog about an idea that matters to us both. If I did my job right, one day perhaps I'll hear back from you.

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