27 March 2008

The Abyss, The Mountain, and The Well

The Abyss and The Mountain

This is where I see myself as a writer: standing on the edge of the Abyss of the Unknown. On the other side, rising up out of the pitch black of the Abyss, is the Mountain of Craft and Other Stuff I Need to Learn, which I have to climb in order to produce anything publishable.

Thus far, I’ve been pretty happy taking baby steps in my development as a writer. After all, with kids, job, life, etc, what the hell else do I have time for?

Lately however, the baby steps have felt sort of unsatisfactory. And I'm starting to realize that they're never going to get me onto the slopes of the Mountain no matter how many I take. In fact, all the baby steps are going to do is bring me closer and closer to the edge of the Abyss - but not over it. If I want to climb the Mountian, I will have to get a running start and take a giant leap of faith.

There's just no other way to get there.

The Well

The Mountain is big - really, really big - so it is one long-ass journey from wanna-be to published writer. I'm sure that if I ever get to the summit of the Mountain (and even if I don't), I shall be eternally grateful to many people. One of these will surely be Joely Sue Burkhart both for her stories* and for this very interesting post. As I was reading it, I discovered one of those things I didn't even know I didn't know. (Thanks, Joely!)

Here's the full story:

I’ve been focusing a lot in the last year or two on the mechanical part of writing – the showing, not telling, the using of active verbs, the what-is-a-scene-anyway? sorts of issues. Joely's post made me think about the other part – the part that, in the end, is what really matters, what will really make or break (or sell) a piece of writing, the core of a piece that makes it Art (i.e., something another person can relate to).

Specifically, Joely talks about “writing from the bottom of the Well” – the Well being the place inside where Art (in whatever form) comes from. It is scary in the Well, Joely says. And it should be, since that is where we stuff all the bits of ourselves, secrets large and small, truths good and bad, that we’d really rather not show the world today or think about until next week. (Or acknowledge. Ever.)

I got goose bumps, though, from what Joely said next:

Only by knowing and accepting all of myself, all the emotions that I pretended I didn’t have for one reason or another, could I even find the Well.

Bingo. Light bulb over the head. Eureka!

This picture of the Well was the visual I needed and all the yip-yap you read about 'write what you know' suddenly clicked. This is the place I need to go to find the things that will shape the mostly bits of crap that I write into more of the bits that would actually be interesting to another person - the Art, in other words.

This is why: the experience of Art – whether we are listening to music, reading a novel, or looking at a painting – is the experience of being drawn down into our Wells. Something in the Art speaks to us, reminds us of the secrets and bits of truth we’ve hidden down there, buried below the everything’s-normal-thanks! faces that we show the world day to day. And something about seeing these bits of ourselves in someone else's Art is cathartic. In a small way, it soothes the sense of unease with have with our secrets, because at least we can see that we're not the only ones who have them.

So The Well, at least for me it would seem, is an odd sort of foothold on the Mountain.

Or it's the Abyss.

Shit. In that case, instead of leaping over it, maybe I should be diving in and making for the bottom. Yow.

(*I’m hoping to ‘review’ several of Joely's stories here soon – watch this space!)



Anonymous said...

I'm so glad my post spoke to you. The Mountain and the Well are huge archetypical symbols. I've often talked about Mount Dhoom (NY) and throwing my precious (story) into the fire. I think that's why the hero's mythic journey speaks so loudly to me, along with all the great fantasies that Tolkien fathered.

Just remember that when things seem the darkest and lowest... there is still light, and it's all the more precious after suffering in the Valley. Plus, when you get to the top of the Mountain, you know there's going to be a great view. :-)

Thanks so much for picking up my stories, and if you do review them (good or bad) let me know and I'll be pleased to link to them! I've also added you to my blogroll.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Joely rocks. That's all there is to that.

And I wholly advocate jumping in, both feet first. You may hate it at the time, but when you find your way out, it's all been worth it.

Bethanie said...

The Mountain and the Well as archetypes - that's interesting. I remember looking through a book about archetypes a long, long time ago and feeling sort of baffled. I was maybe 20-ish and looking back, I think I probably didn't have the life experience to appreciate such Big Picture concepts. Then again, the Big Picture has always been my nemesis and still is. Sounds like something I should look into again...

And I am so close to the edge (or should that be Edge, I wonder...) these days. I'm doing my taxes today and wondering whether I should enter my writing books and doo-dads as expenses. I won't be able to take a deduction for them this year, but I might be able to carry them forward if I sell something this year.

'Course that would mean actually submitting something this year... and there's the Abyss, staring me in the face again...

Bethanie said...

Er, that should be not take a deduction for them in 2007 but carrying them over to 2008 in case I sell something this year....


I should probably stop procrastinating and get back to it... BLECH!