Writing: From Whispers to Words on the Page

I was trying to explain the writing process to a non-writer friend. It’s not an easy process to describe, but I can tell you a little about what happens in my writing groups.

My writing groups are critical to my process. These are working groups and we bring our works-in-progress. One is a virtual group that meets via Skype because we are in Seattle, Atlanta, and Santa Barbara, and the other is comprised of all Seattle writers so we meet in each other’s homes.

I mostly submit a piece for review that I’ve revised a few times at least, and I feel pretty good about it. In the review process, someone might say, “Perhaps a transition is needed here.” Or “The shift between these two sections is too abrupt.” “What happened here?” When I look more closely, I realize that a piece of information is missing; it’s not on the page. It got stuck in transmission.

I knew what I wanted to describe. After all, I’m writing about my life. I know the material. However, transmitting my thoughts, feelings, memories to the page is not a perfect process. Sometimes I think I’ve written something that’s not there. In reading it I can make the leap because I know what happened. But no one else does because it’s stuck in the ethers and is not on the page.

How does any artist transform the whisper of an idea or concept into something tangible, accessible to others? This is a huge challenge. A writer’s medium is words on the page. White space can also be an element. That is, what’s not on the page can be an element of style. Sometimes the writer wants the reader to connect the dots, to let her imagination fill in the blankness; it’s a pause to allow the reader to engage.

However, this was not the issue here. What I’ve learned from my writing group is that I have to be more conscientious to provide a clear narrative, to pay attention to the details in providing the connective tissue. To keep asking myself: Is this accurate to what I mean to say? Is this a clear version of what’s in my head? Is this scene or character credible? How can I improve it, make it stronger?

Back to the drawing board (or computer or desk): I had to try harder to transmit my thoughts effectively onto the page. The reader is not telepathic. She doesn’t know what I’m trying to say, what I intend to say. She only has what’s in front of her. If it’s confusing or incoherent, it doesn’t work and the reader will lose interest. And if I want the reader to take a leap from one thing to the next, have I provided enough “guidance” in the text to ensure she can land safely?

As a writer, I want to engage the reader. I want the reader to stay with the piece. It’s like having an old-fashion radio where you have to keep turning a dial until you get a clear transmission. The writer needs to works to get rid of the crackles and static. Therein lies the work. Revising and fine-tuning until clarity arrives on the page. Until the reader can follow the story that the writer intends.

This is only one of the many challenges of writing. Thanks to my writing group, I keep going.