You will write if you will write without thinking of the result in terms of a result,
but think of the writing in terms of discovery.
~ Gertrude Stein
I’m always searching for descriptions of what writing process feels like at its most essential level, and haven’t found any that describe it better than Gertrude Stein does here.
She’s gone straight to the heart of what allows writing process to be a revelatory power, and a bestower, rather than a distraction or plaything. The difference between these is a willing surrender into seeking and unknowing, rather than a presumed knowledge of any kind. The fact that what she observes about the experience of writing also applies to that of living makes her simple truth seem even more sublime.
As she suggests, my experience of writing is of something to be approached on the only terms it truly allows – the terms of discovery. I know that I’m immersed back in that process when things begin to strike with notes my inner ear can hear, when my crown and scalp suddenly tingle.
Before I reach that however, there’s the unavoidable surrender to that great blank that seems that it will never yield, no matter how I push on or try to break through it. And that is because I’m the one who’s meant to do the yielding.
Recognizing this — rather early, thankfully — is probably the reason I’ve continued writing at all. It was reinforced for me one afternoon while I swam with a friend, and remembered that in order to even be able to do this, I must meet the water where it is. I don’t take hold of it or try to manage it, but rather yield to and work with the way it envelops and supports me.
Every aspect of the story in my novel, The Munich Girl, every theme, revelation, and scene, has come to meet me in a similar way when I was ready to receive it, after I had immersed myself in its atmosphere and waited, listening, watching. Trusting.
Believing that I “know” anything about a story before it has fully shown itself is the only “writer’s block” I’ve ever placed in my own way. “Save it for the page,” one character tells another about the experience of writing. “You know that it will lose its edge — its charge — if you don’t.” Save yourself, your willingness to not know, for what the page — or the day — will reveal, is how I might express that today.
Every story I’ve carried through to completion began with seeing or hearing something in the daily noise of life that stayed with me and took root inside, or was like a silent presence that followed me home. Just as with an animal for whom we would offer a home, it requires that a relationship of mutual trust be built.
Part of that trust for the soul who surrenders to creative process is that we will be met by what we are able to receive, and to integrate, on the deepest levels. A swimmer flailing in fear will not find herself very well supported by the water, even though its quality of buoyancy is always there. We learn to swim by learning to respect the qualities of the water, and shape our own ability to working with it. In a way, we become one with it. Creative process, when met with regard and respect, brings a very similar kind of connection with our own wholeness, and that of the whole world.