Wednesday, August 10, 2005

When Wood Turns To Stone.

Earlier this week, after posting the comments about Babel and his writing process, I awoke from a dream haunted by his ghost.

Babel was swimming toward my bed, lashed to an oar, flailing me with words. "You could have cut the piece!" he cried. "You should have weeded out paragraphs!"

And I woke, trembling, wanting only to escape his critical voice.

In the early-morning darkness, his voice ringing in my ears, I thought about Babel's metaphor about polishing wood into ivory. And his advice about weeding out words, checking them again and again.

It's advice that I need to hear as I come to the end of a piece, a point where the revisions are coming to a close. But not at the beginning, when such advice can turn wood into stone.

That's because early in the writing process, if I spend too much time worrying about the "right" words, I may overlook the story's structure. And Babel's advice may prove not only useless but counter-productive.

Polishing is what I do after I've found the story's structure. But finding that structure requires a different way of seeing. Not looking at the surface so much as beneath the surface. For that a writer needs x-ray eyes. Only toward the end of the process--after I can feel the bones of the story--can I start polishing the words.

Thinking about Babel's advice from this angle lets me see how his rowing metaphor might encompass the entire process... from beginning to end.

But my dream reminded me of the different stages of the process.

Each story's different.

And the path into each story is never the same.

And finding that path--the process of figuring out the story and how to write it--is not only different for each story, it's different from writer to writer.

There are no rules, no road map, for finding your way into a story.

If Babel's way works for you, use it.

If not, keep searching for your own way.

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