I love words. I love it when people love my words. If I could eat and breathe words I would be happy. If I could make my living with words I would be ecstatic. Unfortunately, the business I’m in isn’t about the words, but about what’s underneath.
What exactly am I trying to say?
I’m so fond of my own language that the hardest part of writing is not starting or finishing. The hardest part is changing a measly word, particularly if it’s not my idea to do so. I’m attached at the tongue to my own cleverness. I mistake the notes for the melody, the brushstrokes for the painting, the rainbow sprinkles for the cupcake underneath. Ever taste just the sprinkles? Do and you’ll see that it’s not about them.
So what’s the point here?
A long time ago I got a fortune in a cookie that said, “Cleverness is serviceable for some things, but sufficient for nothing.” Left to my own cleverness, I can string together pearls like, well, a string of pearls. A very long string of pearls. With no clasp on either end, and no way for anyone to get any use out of it. But such a pretty string of pearls! Doesn’t that count?
You’re losing me.
When I’d first assembled 50 or so pages of early writing, not knowing a thing about publishing, I judged the writing to be so good, so obviously special, that I sent it to an agent. Not an agent I knew, but an agent whose name I’d overheard from a neighbor at my three-year-old’s swimming lesson. This agent was so kind to reply at all, even with a gentle refusal, to this mound of – what, sprinkles? – and give me my first awakening. It’s not about the words.
Are we getting any closer?
Of course we use the words, because it’s all we have to work with. Words are the only way we can approach the unsayable essence. But we don’t exactly write our way there; it is more like unwriting. We dive back into the mush of our muddled language to extract the pure shine. Every time we’re sent by critics and editors and unguarded husbands back to the keyboard it’s to find the source under our skin, the precise truth beneath our words that anyone and everyone recognizes. That’s the one that looks good enough to eat.
And tastes great too.