Writer Q&As: Writing as Bridge from Mind to Page

I see all writing as a kind of translation that “bears across,” is a conveyance of an idea across the bridge from a mind to a page. But I wonder to what extent is this task possible? Does characterizing brain-sparks clarify or obscure? Is language a sufficient means? And—since it’s all we’ve got—what if it’s not? [Meaghan Rondeau]

Dear Writer,

Writing is bridgework, and writers are bridge builders, though in writing the bridge is always necessarily (and wonderfully) incomplete. Unquantifiable, somewhat magical powers are needed to complete the crossing—leaps, flights, catapults—across the gap between thought and word in the writer, between the single word and whole story, and between a writer’s words and the reader’s mind.

The translation from the writer’s mind to the reader’s mind is always somewhat of a kind of open, unpredictable miracle, bringing unanticipatable parts of our whole civilization into play.

Language is an insufficient means if one hopes to fully transfer the thoughts of one person to another, but is a sufficient tool, even a sublime tool, if one thinks of creating a written piece as more like writing a symphony that the reader personally knows how to interpret and play. The writer does not get to control how their symphony is played, but we work bloody hard to implant cues and signals pointing in the direction of what we want to create.

I suppose first drafts are where the writer floods the page with what is in their mind, and rewriting is where we tinker and work to make the cues and signals as accurate as we can, so that the story can make that leap to the reader as cleanly as possible. Rewriting is where we use everything we know about reading, information we learn from reading ourselves and from living, to hone our intention to hit its mark. Rewriting is where we scan, with a highly focussed inner ear, for words, thoughts or passages, that are not true — either demonstrably or to our intention.

Language is imperfect, but that imperfection is also its utter charm and exhilaration. There is room in language. There is free air around each word, each sentence, each story, and that is probably why we love to write and to read. If we have ever read a book with pleasure, with excitement, with understanding, we know it can be sufficient. Humans are massively intuitive and ultimately uncontrollable.

Writing is a rough and tumble practice that draws perfectionists, then drives us mad, and finally, after making us spend years trying to control our narrative, and hone it to the utmost authenticity and authorial authority we can, then forces us to relinquish all control and submit to chance, magic, intuition — surrender as you say to wild sparks leaping across voids. A message in a bottle thrown into the ocean.

Answered by Claudia Casper




Posted by: Lindsay Glauser