In Style: Writing as the Discovery of Outlook, Richard M Eastman says: “You don’t begin to write with a complete message or experience already imagined, which is then to be wrapped in language as a means of sending it to your readers. Writing isn’t so much communication as creation. In a real sense, you don’t have an outlook on anything without first having written on it. This outlook comes into being through the dozens of tests, choices, and unexpected chances which turn up as you write on some engaging topic; and most writers agree that the final creation isn’t anything you could have precisely anticipated when you first set pen to paper.”
Eastman’s discovery of outlook holds true for my fiction. I know the story when I begin, I know the ending, and I know a few important scenes, which should mean that I know the whole story, but I don’t. I am not the same, my outlook is not the same, when I finish writing the story as when I began, so the story is not exactly as I intended. The creation process itself creates the change in outlook. Writing is all about the choices we make, and continue to make, all through the creating, editing, proofing. Sometimes I find that I’ve written a book I didn’t know I was writing. A Spark of Heavenly Fire was supposed to be the story of women who could barely cope during times of prosperity when everyone else was doing just fine, but they came alive and dazzled during dark times when everyone else could barely cope. That story is still there in A Spark of Heavenly Fire, but the overriding story is the story of love in all its guises: self-less love, self-love, friendship, romantic love, parental love, obsession. This theme of love came about through the various elemental choices I made during the course of the book, and it makes novel strong, much stronger than it would have been if it remained simply the story of women who come alive in times of hardship.
And Eastman’s discovery of outlook especially holds true for my non-fiction. I wrote a book about grief, a book I didn’t know I was writing. After the death of my life mate/soul mate twenty-one months ago, I found solace in writing about his death and my grief, in blogging about it, in writing letters to him. And now, some of those writings have coalesced into a book that people have called “exquisite,” “profound,” “raw and real.” I wrote to help me come to terms with the soulquake I experienced after he died and with my continued grief. But what the book ends up being is a great love story, the story of a love that transcends time and physical bonds. He might be dead, my love for him is still strong.
I know what you’re going to ask, but no, the book isn’t published yet, but it should be released in March 2012. I’m putting the finishing touches on the book now, adding the few photos I have to further illustrate our life, and then it heads back to my publisher so they can add a cover and get it published.
One unintended benefit of getting the book published is that afterward, this blog will not be quite so schizophrenic. Part of the time I write about writing, the rest of the time I write about grief. The book will pull both parts of this blog together, and it will become a cohesive whole. I wonder if the book will do the same for me, help pull me together somehow, bridging two very different parts of my life — the part where I once shared a life, and the part where I’m left alone to pick up the pieces of that shattered life.
January 5, 2012 at 12:48 pm
I didn’t notice that your outlook was schizophrenic…as so are a lot of my most cherished friends and family. I am really looking forward to reading about your life with love, as I’ve only glimpsed the turmoil afterwards. I have never regretted anything that’s happened to me…especially the unbearable. It seems the hard way is the only way for me. But I can read you grief book in a what-if manner and imagine how it might have helped me 30 years ago…and more importantly, how it will help many who are facing their worst nightmares now.
January 5, 2012 at 12:54 pm
Cathy, thank you. I don’t know if I’m glad that the book is nearing publication, but it will be good to have it available for those who are interested.
January 5, 2012 at 6:50 pm
I really like the Eastman book and have been quoting it in posts for years. Somebody once said, “if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?’ It doesn;t matter. As writers, we’ll figure it out when all is said and done. I’m glad to hear you’re on the home stretch with your grief book, Pat.
January 5, 2012 at 8:07 pm
Malcolm, I know you’ve been quoting Eastman. Guess where I got the quote? From you, during one of our discussions!!!! https://ptbertram.wordpress.com/2009/06/22/pat-bertram-and-malcolm-r-campbell-discuss-the-writers-journey/