daughter’s latest painting “It’s there at last,…the light lying in little pools on the prairie. You’ve caught it… just as you said you wanted to.”
“Yes,” her daughter replies, “I believe I’ve caught it. But think, Mother. I’ve been trying for thirty years to get it as I wanted it.”
Thirty years to catch one little aspect of the prairie. The more years I write, the less I believe that even after thirty years it is possible, in paint or in words, to fully depict what we see in our minds or the “real” world, though artists in every venue may come closer to the reality over the life of their work.
As NINC members, we are novelists, creators of stories, creators whose tool is language. Some people believe we are ourselves creations, created in the image of God, and that God is the Great Creator.
We can try our best to capture a story, or a piece of the prairie, but as Joyce Kilmer said in her famous poem, “Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.” Our attempts to recreate that tree in any medium are imperfect.
I am well aware that the ideas I discuss in this column are never as fully or accurately presented as I wish.
I am constantly aware that others have discussed the ideas before and presented them better.
Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, in the essay “The Poet,” “For poetry was all written before time was, and whenever we are so finely organized that we can penetrate into that region where the air is music, we hear those primal warblings and attempt to write them down, but we lose ever and anon a word or a verse and substitute something of our own, and thus miswrite the poem. The men of more delicate ear write down these cadences more faithfully, and these transcripts, though imperfect, become the songs of the nations.” (As I said, someone else has always said it better than me.)
Annie Dillard says in The Writing Life that in writing a piece, “The vision is not so much destroyed, exactly, as it is, by the time you have finished, forgotten. It has been replaced by this changeling, this bastard, this opaque lightless chunky ruinous work.”
Though I understand what she is saying, I wouldn’t describe the end result in those terms. I believe the end result, though imperfect from the writer’s standpoint, may still be a glowing piece. The beginning vision is the star for which we reach; it inspires us, even though we know we will never reach it.
In spite of this, I see miracles in our writing.
When I read Nora Roberts’ romantic suspense/thrillers, I’m amazed at how seamless her stories appear.
Luanne Rice fascinates me with the honesty of her multi-generational women’s fiction and how true her characters seem to real life. Roberts’ or Rice’s stories inspire to attempt once again to capture the stories that evade me in the actual writing. Isn’t such inspiration a miracle?
The story ideas themselves are miracles.
That a kernel of an idea or character or theme grows into a story in a writer’s mind is another miracle.
That readers are entertained by our stories is a miracle.
That in addition to entertainment, readers sometimes receive guidance, assurance, confirmation, healing, or hope—that is a miracle.
It’s a miracle that what we, as writers, do manage to capture is sufficient to stimulate the readers’ imaginations to the point the readers are able to enter into the worlds we create, and use them to co-create their own worlds and stories within our feeble creations.
It’s a miracle that the readers (and sometimes us when we forget) believe that the authors have created the perfect stories they love.
As writers, we constantly reach for the stars we know we will never touch, but in the reaching we experience our own miracles.
Perhaps the greatest miracle is that, even though we fail every time to fully capture our visions to our own satisfaction, we continue to return to the struggle—and count it joy to choose the writing life.
JoAnn Grote is the award-winning author of 38 books, including inspirational romances, middle-grade historical novels, and children’s nonfiction. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.