The difficulty with writing is that you must sit down and write. There are so many other things to do with your life besides write: shop for dinner, watch TV, wash the dog, change the cat box. All things which must be done, and do not require you to think about yourself. When you write, you must think about what you are writing. Word by word. You must sort out the jumble in your head and write something down. It is all very linear. As soon as you write something, then thirty other possibilities open up.
Like now for instance, I read recently how in quantum physics (or mechanics), at any given moment there are millions of possibilities that could happen in any number of infinite combinations, but only one of those events will happen in the space/time in which you are a part. It’s called the singularity. It is as if, I imagine, you came to the fork in Frost’s poem and as soon as you stepped down one of the paths, the other vanished, if not physically, then ceased to exist as a metaphorical possibility.
Now to put this back on the trail I started down earlier, as each sentence comes to its moment of singularity, it opens up whole new infinite sets of numbers of directions to depart from. As soon as one singularity is reached, it vanishes and the writer is confronted with the next choice. This becomes even more complex, as I go back and re-read what I have written. Unlike and like the moment of collapse into a singularity in physics where the infinite other space/times disappear, in writing one can always go back and try a different universe without a sigh of regret. All the other possible universes can still be accessed through the power of revision. But of course as soon as you change one thing, then the story you were on vanishes as another emerges.
A couple of weeks ago I ran across a writing exercise, at UTTpoetry, that was intriguing enough that I tried it. I was given two sentences from a 19th century novel completely unknown to me. I had never heard of the book, never heard of the writer. In the novel, the two sentences appeared one after the other. The writing task was to insert my own sentence between the two given sentences, maintaining whatever narrative flow I saw between the two. Once that step was accomplished, I had to insert another sentence between the first and now new second sentence, and then another between the new second sentence and the third sentence, which was formerly the second sentence. The third step was to repeat this process, inserting two new sentences between each of the sentences in the text. Then again, and again, until I had 17 sentences total.
What was interesting, at least to me, was how the narrative grew and became transformed with each new set of insertions. With the first round, I was pretty pleased, I had made a simple connection between the two sentences which changed what I had at first thought of as the meaning. This transformation continued with each new set of sentences. By the end the narrative which was there on the page, resembled very little, except for the first and last sentence, what I had been given at the start.
It was amazing to me, not only how the story I imagined from the given sentences had diverged so farby the end of the exercise, but how each time a sentence was added it changed the meaning, the original intent vanished, and was replaced by new opportunities, and this constant state of flux was caused simply by the choice of direction I decided to take as I wrote a new middle sentence between each of the sentences.
Which brings me back to the beginning, what makes writing so difficult: there is never a set direction to take, as soon as one choice is made a million other possibilities collapse, while at the same time opening up a million more. The writer is always at the point of singularity by herself, possibly even embodying the point of singularity in herself, as she writes. The writer is both an opening and a closure. A door, an empty space between possibility.
(July 29, 2015)