until I see what I say

One of the reasons I write is to find out what I’m thinking, what I mean to say, and then to be able to hold onto it. When I talk, I often repeat myself with such slight variations that it must be maddening to a listener. I tend to want to summarize. I want to get it right and then lock it in. And if I keep coming back to a problem, circling around it from different angles, I can get closer and closer. Revision is my favorite part of writing–getting the words just right.

In The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor, she writes to her agent, “…I have to write to discover what I am doing. Like the old lady, I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it over again.” She was 23 years old.

One of the reasons I read is that I love finding those moments that are expressed so exactly right in someone else’s story. Yes, I think, that’s the way it is. I underline them or copy them in a notebook, always trying to hold on to them.

8 thoughts on “until I see what I say

  1. I read for that reason, too. I also have many notebooks going back seventeen years, in which I have copied down sentences and paragraphs from books that I have loved and don’t want to forget. They also seem to remain true over the years.


  2. Interesting–” . . . until I see what I say.”
    Writing to me is very visual. I can think about a character, or a story, or a setting, forever. But until I see the words on the page–the form they create, the way the words string together, the picture the words paint–there is no story at all.


  3. What a great comment. This is true and I need to remember it. Apparently Frank Conroy was big on this. “He used to say that in his own writing he’d read and re-read what he’d written the day before until he knew what to do next.”


  4. “… getting the words just right.” YES! I often find myself frustrated, knowing the perfect word, the perfect phrase is just there … out of reach … on the tip of my fingers, as it were. It’s such a joy when the mind finally clears and you snatch it for your own.


  5. Oh, yes, I do this too … re-read what I’ve written until my character makes the next move, speaks the next line. And when that doesn’t happen, I know I’ve forced something and need to revise.


  6. Rereading what I’ve written the day before to know what comes next is becoming more and more the way I write. Apparently Frank Conroy was on to something!

    And I love those moments when I finally arrive at the right word. It’s such a process–usually a piling on and then a scraping away. Or I’ll think I have it, and then the next day, no that’s not right. Yes, such a peaceful feeling when I get it right.


  7. Pingback: what I’m thinking: 62/365 | catching days

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