Spotted Writing Stunts

Dear Friends,

The other day I walked into a coffee shop wearing a T-shirt I bought a in Port Townsend on a self-designed writing retreat. The barista read my shirt, said, “I don’t get it.”

“Instead of hiring someone to do it for me,” I said.

“Okay, but is that bad?” she wanted to know.

Wow, good question! Not only do I get paid to edit, but the fact is that many other people have generously leant their creative muscle to my work, offering revision notes, reworking or inserting lines or paragraphs–one of my first creative writing teachers, Graham Hewson, revised the ending of the short story I submitted to my MFA program. Were the paragraphs he altered the make-it or break-it lines that got me in? Who knows, but I knew when to set any ego aside, bow to talent and experience and just say, “thank you.” My good friend Wes Pierce drove around Richmond to supply me with correct street details for a short story, “Shoeless.” En route, with his writer’s eye, he suggested atmospheric and story notes I gladly used. I could go on and on, listing all of the group help I’ve received over the years, recalling lines in my work I encounter and smile about because this or that friend inserted or reworked the line, and I still remember how excited I was at their improvement to my work. I spent this very morning evaluating an article for a client, providing its author with a to do list for maximizing the content.

Does any of this group effort take authorship away from the author? I strongly maintain it does not. Rather, it merely serves to remind us that while the essence of the story or piece comes from the author, when it’s being shaped for publication and has to target an audience, writing can (and frequently should) very successfully become a concerted team effort, with each of us turning to our community of writers and editors when we’re in need of their advice, creative chops, ability to fix a problem line or ten, cite structural mishaps or just hold our hand when we’re creatively tired and frustrated.

Now I want a new T-shirt, one that reads: I do my own writing stunts, but my friends are always there to spot me. Thanks for the helps, dear talented guys and gals! I’m humbled, impressed and grateful.

xo Laurel Leigh

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6 Comments

Filed under Howling at the moon, Notes from the coffee shop

6 responses to “Spotted Writing Stunts

  1. Totally. Remember when Stephen King’s THE STAND was republished in its fuller form and he made a comment about resisting the temptation to revise as he reinstated longer passages? I have a copy of HUCKLEBERRY FINN that includes some of the passages Twain ultimately edited out before he published it.

    By the way, the Jhumpa Lahiri piece on Jill’s site can be found at:
    http://jilannehoffmann.com/?s=lahiri&submit=Search

  2. Yes, I agree with you, Laurel. Time is the great perspective builder. Looking at a story with “fresh” eyes is so difficult and yet so necessary.The article I posted in my blog about Jhumpa Lahiri speaks to this. In her NYT essay she refers to sentences as “unsettled organisms.” When she reads from her published work, she has to read as if it were not her own so she can overcome her urge to “reach out and smooth a stray hair.” If enough time has passed, those stray hairs may often be gray. (groan) :o) Wouldn’t it be fabulous if we could somehow put ourselves into a “fresh eye” trance when we want to take an objective look at our own work?

  3. One idea is maybe especially with a first-person narrative a writer has to get incredibly deep into the character in order to write an effective story. And then how to back out far enough to gain sufficient objectivity to view that story from multiple perspectives? I frequently think that time is the best answer and continually think of Junot Diaz’s comment (after his Pulitzer) that after about ten years one starts to hear the drums of a story. My students groan when they hear ten years, but the point is well taken that the blush of creative energy, that getting deep into character, perhaps needs to fade a bit so the writer can become her own reader and subsequently editor. And then there’s an even further problem, because the writer may yet again need to dive into the heart of the character to produce more material. And so we struggle on. Thank god for good readers and editors.

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  5. Have you ever sat in the front row at the movies? It’s a terrible place to sit because you lose the perspective that the film is trying to convey. Of course the writer creates the script from that close in vantage point but the writer’s colleagues view the work from the equivalent of the tenth or twentieth row and see the essence of the piece from that different angle. From that angle our friends spot aspects of the piece that the writer or moviegoer would never see.

    • Hey David, I can’t get the image of a telescope out of my mind. Do you think writers too often fail to look at their work from multiple perspectives? “Failing to see the forest for the trees?” Do you have any suggestions on how to avoid this pitfall, if it is, indeed, a pitfall? Laurel? Wes? You guys want to weigh in?

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