“all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame.”
I’m reading a wonderful book. An award winner. At one point, the sheer poignancy of the words touched me so deeply, I had to put the book down. (Good thing they’re short chapters!) I’m only about 150 pages in. At this rate, I may never finish if I have to keep putting the book down to recover! Knowing it was so highly acclaimed, I decided to look at some reviews. The positive reviews did not surprise me; I agreed with most of them. The negative reviews, on the other hand, shocked me. I wasn’t shocked that not everyone liked the book. Literature is, after all, subjective. What disturbed me was the fact that here was this beautiful work, and some people were not appreciating it for what it was but criticizing it for what it was not. I guess that’s the nature of criticism, but it bugged me.
It is historical fiction. It is not a history book. Not a biography. Not a newspaper. I am defensive of writers, most artists, in fact, who pour themselves into their work and then open the door and share it with the world. What an amazing act of bravery! I know writers who won’t let anyone read their work for fear of criticism. I get that. We are all human, susceptible to pain, vulnerable to an attack on our ego. Courage is born when the desire to share one’s gift with the world outweighs that fear. Opening the door leaves the creator vulnerable to attack. Only those with the mental fortitude to endure such criticism will continue in their craft.
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”
Understanding the fear and only beginning to understand the courage, I come to the defense of those writers, those artists, less appreciated. When I write something that’s say, 1000 words, I am only giving a snapshot in time and place and only from a certain perspective. (And, even though I’ve never written a book, I assume it’s similar. What is true of 1000 words might also in essence be true of an entire novel.) I can pretty much only say one thing at a time. There is so much I’m not saying. And telling the whole thing is not the intent. It’s not to give a play-by-play of the whole ball game, a day-by-day account of the whole war, a feeling-by-feeling diary of a whole life. Just one thing, one aspect. Maybe illustrated in various scenes, but still limited. If you’ve never tried it, maybe you don’t know how difficult it is. If you have tried, maybe you can fathom the breadth of the task, and it scares you out of your wits and that’s why you don’t try it again. But if you do, maybe you’ll appreciate that author who zoomed in and told–showed–that one thing so well, you had to close the book for fear the brilliance of the words would blind you. The experience of that moment for most of us writers and also for those of us readers who willingly “suspend disbelief,” however briefly, and allow ourselves to be lifted into other worlds–ah!–that is where joy resides.