The Literary Leap–Writing as an Act of Faith

Have you ever walked in the dark?  Seriously.  Say it’s the middle of the night, and, for some reason, you need to get up.  Maybe you need to head down the hall to the bathroom.  Maybe you failed to eat supper and now, your stomach is grumbling at 2:00 a.m., and you remember there’s a blueberry pie stashed in the back of the fridge.  Maybe you just can’t sleep and need to get up, stretch your limbs, unwind before lying down again.

 

It’s dark.  Pitch-dark, a moonless, starless night, a gentle rain falling from low-lying clouds, the sound of the drops pittering and pattering off the eaves and gutters and windows.  But your significant other is in bed with you, and you don’t want to disturb them.  So you don’t flick on any lights.  You just plant your feet onto the floor and stand up, stepping slowly across the room and out into the hall, where, also for the sake of discretion (maybe there’s a house guest snoring away on the living room coach), you keep the lights off.

 

Dark.  You know the house well, of course.  You live in it.  But you generally navigate it during the day, or with the lights on.  Now you feel your way through darkened corridors and Stygian rooms until you reach the kitchen.  Finally, opening the refrigerator door, some light!  And yes.  There’s the pie.  You secure two pieces, place them on a plate, grab a fork, and . . . close the refrigerator door.  Plunged into darkness again (the house guest is in the next room and you don’t want to disturb them), you push through the dark and sit down at the dining room table.  There, you eat your pie (without seeing it).

 

And when you finish, you have to walk through the dark again, empty the plate into the sink, navigate the pitch-dark hall, back to the bedroom.  You see nothing. Everything is done by memory, by feel, familiarity.

Faith.

Indeed.  Are you sure there is nothing in your path, some tripping hazard blocking your way?  The dog had been playing with his toys earlier.  Didn’t he leave one of them in the hall . . .  Hmm.  But you keep going, slowly, moving forward, trusting in your instincts, your senses apart from sight that will guide you through.  You are not crippled with fear.  You dare to proceed.

 

And eventually, of course, you safely reach your bed.  You have completed your mission, in the dark–and in the process shoveled in a thousand nighttime calories.  But who’s counting?

 

You had an awareness of where you were going–from your memory of the house and its layout, from feeling your way forward.  You couldn’t see.  You couldn’t be sure until you took the next step.  But you believed.

You jumped, as it were, and landed on your feet.

***************************

It is much the same when we write–or do anything creative, really.  Think about it.  An idea hits you, unasked for, unplanned.  You feel inspired to write it, to unfurl the story wherever it leads.  To create characters that dream and fear and imagine and make mistakes and pursue redemption and say all manner of dialogue over hundreds of pages of manuscript.

Where do their words come from?  How do you know what they will say, exactly, to whom, and when?  As you sit down at your PC or laptop to begin, a blank screen staring back at you, do you know what page 76 will look like?  How about page 200?  Or page 6?

 

What will character X do in chapter 16?  In short, this idea you have, this general outline of a story–how will it develop once you begin keying in the words, once the sentences build on themselves, one upon another upon another?  The answer is–you don’t know.  You have no idea.   You have a general outline of the story, as a whole.  But–aside from maybe a scene here or there–the details are a mystery.  The plot developments are far off, concealed signposts in a mist.  The characters haven’t spoken a word yet.  Some characters will emerge in your story that you aren’t even aware of yet.  But when the magic of storytelling commences, when you dare to move from paragraph to paragraph and chapter to chapter, they will come upon the scene and make their presence known.

 

Writing, creating, is an act of faith.  There are no guarantees.  No promises.  While you may have the first chapter, the first scene, planned out, you most certainly do not have every word mapped out.  You key in the first sentence with a belief, a silent trust that the second sentence will come into existence, and then a third, and a fourth, and, ultimately, a thousandth and a ten thousandth.  But it’s all started in the dark.

Perhaps the story you’re beginning was always there, somewhere deep in your subconscious.  Or somewhere out there in the stars, floating amid the dark matter of space, unobserved, a literary Schrodinger’s Cat–until the moment when you observed it and breathed life into it and, now, are revealing it, syllable by syllable.

 

Yet, even as you reveal the story, you cannot know that it will be told in its entirety.  What if you get stuck in chapter 10?  What if you see two forks in the road, and, unlike Frost, cannot decide which to take?  What if you get fenced in somewhere along the middle of the story, unable to see any way out to a satisfying conclusion?  What if you can’t finish the thing?

 

The path ahead is murky, and it will only begin to clear and lighten as you walk along it, your destination never guaranteed.  It’s dark.  You cannot see where you’re going, not exactly.  You have only a general sense of direction.  You have to trust the process, have faith in the muse.  Believe in the story to reach you and talk to you as you continue placing one foot in front of the other, in the dark.

 

And keep going.

Something far better than a piece (or two) of blueberry pie will be waiting for you when you get there.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

 

22 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. magarisa
    Aug 31, 2020 @ 13:30:17

    Another encouraging, inspiring post! Love the concept of a “literary Schrodinger’s Cat”.

    Reply

  2. joannerambling
    Aug 31, 2020 @ 22:41:00

    Walking around the house in the dark is something I had done and I get thie connection with writing

    Reply

  3. ellie894
    Aug 31, 2020 @ 23:55:01

    So well written as always Mike. Very encouraging. I hope the blueberry pie was yummy. Take care 😊

    Reply

  4. Dragthepen
    Sep 01, 2020 @ 00:30:07

    If I had a freshly baked blueberry pie 🥧 in my frig, that’s all the reason I need to walk through the dark to the kitchen😊

    Reply

  5. melhopkinsdotcom
    Sep 01, 2020 @ 12:14:46

    So true! Writing is an act of faith because you write with your heart not your head!

    Reply

  6. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Sep 01, 2020 @ 22:23:04

    Ahhh, this comes at exactly the right moment, Mark. THANK YOU! And the promise of a slice of blueberry pie (my favorite) once I’ve gotten through this first draft is the icing on the cake 😉 Be well!

    Reply

  7. Patrice
    Sep 01, 2020 @ 22:49:02

    Did both yesterday – minus the blueberry pie. Sadly, none in my frig
    The writing part is as you write. I get the first word or phrase and start to write. Being it’s poetry, the whole process is a lot shorter than a novel!
    Love your words ❤️

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Sep 03, 2020 @ 11:20:59

      Thanks so much, Patrice! And yes–the mystery of the creative process is something we will probably never truly or fully understand. It is one of the profound (and joyous) enigmas in the universe!

      Reply

  8. Ste J
    Sep 16, 2020 @ 14:52:44

    I find that beer helps me think outside the box, sadly too much beer hinders my creativity, the attempt at a balancing act continues…

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Sep 17, 2020 @ 10:38:22

      It is definitely all about balancing! It’s funny you should mention balancing because I may write a post soon on the balancing involved with so many aspects of writing. When you think about it, almost all of the writing experience is like a tightrope act–trying to locate that happy medium with techniques, style, approach, etc.

      Reply

  9. Ste J
    Sep 17, 2020 @ 13:44:44

    Time, that is the root cause of lack of anything, get that sorted and I could at least do more on the blog if nothing else, which is easier to balance than a whole novel. I’m always up for anything I can get with advice to balancing.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Sep 20, 2020 @ 11:38:38

      I am definitely in the same boat! If there could be a Twilight Zone–esque device that stops time for the world around you, while you, yourself, can continue doing things–that would be welcome!:) I, too, am looking for more and more ways to carve out time for writing . . .

      Reply

  10. Lyn
    Sep 21, 2020 @ 04:27:35

    There are so many ideas of how to proceed when it comes to writing…
    Start at the beginning and work your way to the end.
    Start in the middle and expand either way.
    Start at the end and work your way backwards.
    Start with a photo or sentence prompt and see where it leads you.
    I guess it depends on whether you’re a plotter or a pantser. It doesn’t really matter, just go for it.
    Blueberry pie will always help…especially with ice cream 😀

    Reply

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