In a powerful piece for The New York Times, noted writer and essayist Roger Rosenblatt recently penned a piece titled “The Invisible Forces That Make Writing Work.” Although ostensibly about the non-visible forces that shape writing, the overarching theme is one that transcends the craft and whose lessons can be applied to our everyday lives.
That’s why, I suppose, Mr. Rosenblatt begins his piece for the Book Review section by quoting @kathrynschulz:
“[W]e cannot see most of the things that rule our lives. Magnetic fields, electric currents, the force of gravity all work unseen, as do our interior arbiters of thoughts, inclinations, passions, psyches, tastes, moods, morals, and — if one believes in them — souls. The invisible world governs the visible like a hidden nation-state.”
As Mr. Rosenblatt goes on to point out, good fiction mirrors life in that there are signs that pop up at every step of our lives; often it is only in hindsight that we as readers (and human beings) pick up on this and make sense of these clues. And just as nature is defined by change, so too is writing an organic process.
Roger Rosenblatt specifically refers to Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, but I think many readers would be surprised how much even character names (let alone their relationships and personal growth arcs) change through the draft process. The same is also true of us as humans. We have an idea where we want to be in, say, a year, yet along the way there are so many competing forces at play that it’s inevitable we will end up somewhere else – and as someone else.
I think that’s part of the reason an author like Jonathan Franzen is so popular today. His stories aren’t particularly complex or radical in their approach. Still, Franzen manages to capture the complexities of personal growth and interpersonal relationships, especially in a book like Freedom.
Mr. Rosenblatt ends his own piece for the NYT by describing how he resurrects the invisible through his own writing, and it’s a poignant message:
“I am not unaware that my writing has improved in the nine years since our daughter’s death. My work is sharper now, and more careful. Happily would I trade all the books I’ve written in those nine years for one moment with Amy alive, but since that bargain is impossible, I write to fill the void her death created. And something else: Since I believe it was Amy’s death that led me to write more seriously, she lives with me invisible. I write to see her.”