Globes, João Silas

To explore strange new wor(l)ds…

I’m an exploratory writer. Which means that I write without a plan.

Basically, I get an idea or a character or sometimes even just a first line and then I start writing. The story unfolds itself. The characters tell me what they want to do and where they want to go. The book opens up in front of me as though I’m reading it and not writing it. It’s a wonderful exercise in imagination and stamina.

I love that I write this way because it means I don’t get bored. I’m also not constraining myself to a plot that’s already been mapped out. In fact, I find that if I plan ahead, I have more trouble writing. It’s like because I already know the story and the ending, I don’t need to write it down. But if I don’t know what’s going to happen next, then I can put pen to paper and find out.

I know that not everyone writes like I do. Not everyone understands how I can write like this. I get it.

It would be wonderful if I could map out a story, draw up an outline, know how to get from point A to B to C and arrive comfortably at an ending. Instead, I write in circles, have multiple missteps, tend to get “blocked” when I don’t know what to do next, and — the worst of it all — don’t always tell a narratively cohesive and developmentally growing story.

But the problem is – if I did all that planning, I’m not so sure I’d want to write at all. That’s not what writing is about for me. It’s about exploration. It’s about movement. It’s about finding out what happens next.
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John Gardner: Truth & Peanut Butter Sandwiches

Truth & Peanut Butter Sandwiches

In undergrad, we had two writing professors, one for poetry and one for fiction. Since at the time poetry intimidated the heck out of me (more on that in a future post, I’m sure), my college writing career was “managed” by one professor. This professor happened to be a really big fan of John Gardner, who has written several books on writing. I didn’t care much for Gardner then (though it struck me this morning that it might be past time that I re-read his books on writing and see how I feel now, years later), but one quote of his that stuck with me regardless is this one:

The writer who cannot distinguish truth from a peanut-butter sandwich can never write good fiction.
– John Gardner, The Art of Fiction

Is it really that easy to mix up truth and a peanut-butter sandwich? Of course not. But that’s not the point. The point is that if a writer doesn’t know the truth, doesn’t know truth, and doesn’t use truth spread out (like peanut-butter!) all over her work, then the writer simply can’t write good fiction. Truth must be present in fiction.

But, you argue, fiction isn’t the truth! Fiction never happened! That’s why it’s called fiction and not non-fiction. It’s not reality. It isn’t a memoir or a biography or a historical account of things that actually transpired. Why are you bringing up truth at all? Fiction does not equal truth.
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