I was planning on doing a post on that need to write but then had the opportunity to write a Guest Writer article on the subject for The View From Here Magazine. It is online today with the print issue coming out November 6th, I believe. Here’s the first paragraph:
For six years, I was a lawyer. I went to law school; I passed the bar exam; I was sworn in, and I paid my licensing dues. Et voila. It fits, doesn’t it?
Far more difficult to know if you’re a writer.
There’s the obvious, “You’re a writer if you write.” But that’s like saying you’re a cook if you cook. When I was in law school, I heard over and over again, “You have to learn to think like a lawyer.” But that doesn’t work here either. What defines a writer is not “thinking.”
This was wonderful. Or I mean “that,” the guest article. (Bit of comment fumbling!) I love “Sometimes we can only discover the shape of our lives as we live them.” So true. Thank you for sharing a bit of yours.
Thanks for reading the article, Judy. And for your nice comment.
Great article, Cindy! Really smart, and remarkably clear – as always.
Beautiful. And yes, we “discover the shape of our lives as we live them.” That has certainly been true for me.
Lovely piece, and I love the picture of you strolling though the gate. I can’t help but think of you inside the gate as a lawyer and emerging as a writer. A transformation I am so glad you made.
Thanks for your kind words, Darrelyn. And for that interpretation of the picture, which I love.
Cynthia, this piece about your journey as a writer is wonderful. I especially appreciate what you’ve written here about trusting your readers to make the connections, and how you figured out that you were putting dual voices onto the page — your own voice as both reader and writer — and then were able to learn from that.
Thanks, Dory. I’ve discovered that when I use the word “apparently,” it’s a flashing sign that what’s about to follow might be the reader’s voice.
Here’s the example where it was first clear to me what was going on:
“Don’t go,” I said, surprising myself. How many times in my dreams had I wanted him to leave? [Apparently real life was another thing.] I took a step toward him.
This was a great article–and it’s what I needed to hear right now. Especially as a lawyer who went through law school and a couple years of practicing and who wants to be a writer for a living instead.
Kim-I didn’t realize you were a lawyer too. How fun that we’ve both made the switch. I have two other friends who’ve done the same thing. It seems that what both professions have in common is a love of language, but I guess the similarity ends there. Crossing over is an interesting process, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I was never passionate about the law. But writing, yes.
Great article, Cynthia. I’m intrigued with this:
“When I write, I’ve been putting both voices—the reader’s and the writer’s—on the page, which then left the reader nothing to do.”
Now, of course, I’m wondering if I do the same thing. You mentioned “apparently” as a red flag for you. Are there other typical words that signal crossing over into reader mode?
Linda, that’s the only red flag I’ve noticed. Reading out loud helps. Sometimes I can catch it by asking myself, what sentences can I do without?
It’s fascinating to me that you say you were putting both the reader’s and the writer’s voices on the page. My class called Approaches to Teaching Writing is focusing on ways that literary studies, composition, and creative writing intersect. We just read a chapter from _The Workshop_ by Tom Grimes that addresses this very issue. He writes about the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the influence of the theorists who ignore authorial desire. Essentially, the workshop model insists that writer’s intentions don’t matter – it’s about just the words on the page. I think this is so interesting, particularly in relation to your thoughtful piece, because as writer’s we *know* the feeling we want our readers to experience, but it’s so hard to get there indirectly. Of course, that’s also what makes reading so great – that there’s beauty and the possibility of interpretation! In any case, I so enjoyed reading about your journey to becoming a writer. (If you were in my class, we would have called it your “literacy narrative.” Oh, school!)
P.S. Just out of curiosity – what do you think about workshops? Do you follow the model of not letting the writer speak?
Annie-Your class, discussing the ways literary studies, composition, and creative writing intersect, sounds so interesting. I do think workshops can be helpful because each single reader brings his or her own stuff to a read but if you gather a group, you are more likely to weed the individual stuff out and receive feedback that will be useful to revision.
The whole debate of author intention versus what’s on the page is so interesting that it merits its own post. My first thoughts are that the writer’s intention comes into play at certain points in the process. But once the writing is in a form far enough along to submit to a workshop, I do think the words should speak for themselves, more because of the possibilities the words offer than the obvious fact that the writer can’t accompany the writing everywhere to explain what he or she meant.
In September at our most recent writing group workshop, I became convinced of the usefulness of not letting the writer speak. There is often so much more on the page than the writer is aware of. Letting the writer speak would limit the discussion to intention rather than open it up to possibility. Afterward, intention can come back into play. The writer can take what she or he learned is on the page and change, add to, or delete.
Great comment. Thanks, Annie.
Thanks, Cindy! That’s very helpful – and I may use it in my philosophy of writing!
What a great article, so honest and moving. I completely relate to it, coming as I did out of my science background. The glass slipper fits.
Thanks for reading, Jennifer.