Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Writing is Like...

By: Stephanie Duncan

At the Festival, I am always interested in hearing authors desrcibe their own writing process.  Sometimes it is like a battle, fought until the last word, or like the struggle then joy in having a baby, or once I heard an author explain that his writing is like making his way through a mud swamp.  Because writers are (of course) so good with words, it is interesting to learn from them how they understand the journey of writing a poem, story, or book.

So here are some 'writing metaphors' I've collected below...

Leslie Leyland Fields, author of 6 books and professor at Seattle Pacific University, compared writing to a more painful process in her session titled, "The Art of Bloodletting: Translating Suffering to the Shared Page." Her basis is that writing can be a painful, though holy, activity, as we honestly struggle to face the reality around us with our pen.

Kate DiCamillo, children's author of Because of Winn Dixie and other books, said her writing is like building a ladder as she's climbing it, "as I rest my full weight on the rung only just built, and prepare to take yet another step."

These next few quotes do not come from Festival speakers, but some speakers quoted these classic writers:

Dorothy Sayers, after finishing a novel, said, "I feel like God on the seventh day."

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness." -George Orwell

"An idea in the head is like a rock in the shoe; I just can't wait to get it out." -Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

"Writing is like walking through a dense forest in the dead of night with a pencil flashlight between your teeth..." -Kurt Vonnegut

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." -Red Smith

“My stories run up and bite me on the leg-I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.” -Ray Bradbury

Many of these quotes, if not outright violent, imply something of a risk.  It is a risk for authors to pour themselves into a work they know they will have to share with the world.  It is a risk to be vulnerable to the story and let it take you where it may.  It is a risk to invest so much in a manuscript that readers may either adore or critique. 

I'd like to hear your thoughts:

Do you have a particular 'writing metaphor'? What does writing feel like to you?

And why do you think writers feel so much violence or risk in the writing process?


  1. I was there, too! Fellow author Patti Hill and I led one of what are called "Festival Circles" -- and our discussion group focused on upmarket fiction. We discussed what's being published especially by Christian publishers who are looking for literary fiction that's commercially viable (one of the definitions of upmarket fiction.)

    You asked for metaphors. Here's one I wrote while there: An editor is the person who will tell you that there's spinach on your teeth, before you sit for what may be the only portrait that will survive you.

    One of the most interesting things I heard at the Festival -- and I've got a pile of pithy quotes from it-- was said, I think, by Luci Shaw.

    I didn't write down the exact words, but the substance was this: We learn many things when we study how to write. But the one thing that can't be taught is the ability to create metaphors.

    Interesting, huh?

  2. For me, it depends on what I am writing. Sometimes writing is peaceful and calms me, helping me gain perspective. It is then that I am sure that I was called to write. Other times, like when nearly finished with a project I can't wait to put to rest, it is tiring and almost painful. I think that I like Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's quote the best:)
    Thanks for sharing this.


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