Friday, October 12, 2012

Entry # 101 "Map Quests for Stories"

Photo Credit: Alex Dunn - October 2012
In my craft readings I’ve returned to an old favorite, Nancy Willard’s The Left-Handed Story: Writing and the Writer’s Life.  I first became acquainted with Willard’s work when I read her lovely novels – Things Invisible to See (1984) and Sister Water (1993).  She offers wise advice to writers.

In the context of working on revisions, I am considering her words. Willard says that there are two kinds of journeys that we all make.  “The first is the journey that you can map. Your destination is clear, the map will show you the shortest way to get from here to there.”  Sometimes after a trusted reader lays a finger on a problem in a story under revision, the writer sees what needs to happen next to the text. Perhaps a contradiction must be resolved or a character’s motives more carefully developed. The map routes are easier to follow – at least for me. I can see the route needed to improve the work and arrive at my destination.

But a more challenging journey is the one that requires an act of faith, that requires rich imaginings that move beyond the text on the page, and sends the writer on a quest driven by instinct. Sometimes those journeys take years of travel time.

Willard says that “…the second kind of journey is the kind of journey where you go from instinct. Not even a compass [or Garmin or MapQuest] will help you.”  
And she goes on to say that  “…The journeys that writers make - are like both kinds.  Sometimes you need the map.  When you’re revising your work, it’s helpful to know where you’re going and how you plan to get there.  But when you’re writing a first draft…[and even later drafts] ah, that’s a different story.”   

Photo Credit: Jan Bowman - September 2012
 When revising subsequent drafts, it is necessary to keep the second kind of journey as part of the process, too.

Willard’s observations are particularly helpful to me because writers do have a calling to live “on the interface of two worlds,” the one that gives us the reality of maps and concise directions to improve work and the other one of dreams, if our stories are to get to their destination.  

Photo Credit:  Alex Dunn - September 2012
Writers struggle to find a balance and not everyone understands just what writers are saying about their life when they say, “I’m a writer.”  

Most people don’t know how much reflection time is required. Some journeys require light years of travel time.

Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2011 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Issues of Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at:

No comments:

Post a Comment