The work of the writer is often to open to that intensity, that burn and chaos of feeling; to allow yourself to be driven by possibilities you have not yet uncovered, a revelation you do not yet know, or to let a character you have fallen for turn into someone else on the page. Because it can be those moments–in fact it is those unexpected moments–when something you think you are so sure of twists and becomes something else that infuses real life into a story.
The essay is written in a three-part structure that takes us IN FROM the past of a moment with Dawn’s 10th-grade English teacher TO the heart of the piece and OUT TO the present of her advice to a new writer.
The first part, which describes the fire with which her English teacher speaks about a T.S. Eliot poem, ends with this line:
I want to write something that makes someone feel that.
Dawn does. Not only in her How We Spend Our Days piece on this blog and in her novels, but in this very essay.
The dichotomies she draws are at the same time clear and tornado-like–clear on the page for the reader and swirling together in the mind of the writer: Holy and demonic. Rapture and clarity. Author and writer. Initial outpouring and conscious control. Something you are sure of that becomes something else.
For years (through my first two novels) I was a revision-junkie. But I experienced this “staying open” for the first time when writing the novel I just finished–and it was exciting. All the amazing notes I took at 3 am…and used.
I will leave you with this:
All that really matters is that there was a story you loved once, that burned in you enough that you took a few years of your life and wrote it down.
No, one more:
Cut yourself open to the world, see and feel as much as you can bear and take that feeling and lean into it, kick it open, transform it. Live in that madness and get it onto the page. Learn your own voice, trust your own instincts, find that next story you are on fire to tell.
Click on the link to read more of Dawn’s words and to feel that fire.