Friday, July 06, 2007

The Wood Chopper

Often are the moments when I sit down to write… when I have the desire to write... but there is nothing there. I have composed and deleted already a few groups of words - some even made it as far as complete sentences - and still I find myself at a loss. I only know that I want to say something, but I don’t know what it is. Michelangelo would say that he didn’t create his sculptures, they were already in the marble - he simply exposed them. And so it is with writing sometimes. I will write in my head wildly disconnected thoughts and excise those that do not fit, revealing the beauty of what is left. The words don’t always have to appear written before my eyes, but they have been written behind my eyes nonetheless.

It has been several hours since I walked away from this work. Now nearly 4 a.m., it is beckoning me back, drawing me away from the comfort of my bed, away from my sleep and back to a path that leads at once nowhere and everywhere. I usually have an idea about where I’m going… at least a general heading, but today, in the still hours of the predawn morning, I am lost. As if stranded in the jungle, I keep walking… listening for the sound of water, of civilization, of something - anything - familiar to move towards. The instinct to survive drives me to keep walking, to keep writing until I find it, whatever it is.

Annie Dillard writes of the solitude and the isolation of the writer. She tells in The Writing Life of the small rooms and the self-deprivation of comfort, of companionship, of society as she sinks into the world of words. The perfection of the carefully molded elements of the sentences and the interplay of the thoughts and ideas all come out in the solitude of the writer’s world. Writing is not a performing art, but rather a recorded one. The beauty is in the finished product, not in its creation. Indeed, the creative process is often ugly, agonizing and for long periods dormant. The work, however, may not reflect the agony. The work must flow like a river. The work will either be remembered - or forgotten. But the process, however, can never be known.

I used to have a padded desk chair. Covered in soft fabric, it had a multitude of adjustments. It could move up and down, tilt backward and forward and it was equipped with an adjustment to support the lumbar region of my back. It fit me like a glove and when I needed to take a break from my world, I needn’t leave my desk; I would simply adjust the chair upward and backward, placing my feet upon my desk and my head back into my clasped hands, elbows in the air. I gave that chair to my son. I now have a hard wooden folding chair that reminds me of its presence every moment I sit in it. I am never too comfortable and although my writing space is not so desolate as the many Dillard describes, at 4 a.m. it is none too scenic with only my darkened reflection staring back at me from the window.

The writing life is my life. I chose it as much as it chose me. In fact, it patiently awaited my acquiescence. The words finally won and came forth. It broke me. And it was not without struggle and much discomfort. Pain motivates me and it is perhaps possible that although past experience formed the words, self-imposed discomfort gets them written. There are tricks to every trade, I suppose, and excellence never coexists with complacence. The struggle to create is born of need and that need might be as simple as the need to seek relief.

Dillard tells the story of how she learned to chop wood. It sounds easy enough; stand the log on end, swing the axe and split the wood. But she found that no matter how simple it seemed and how much she tried, the axe only kept whittling the top of the log to a blunt point. It wasn’t until she was told the secret that the axe found its way through the wood. “Aim for the chopping block. If you aim for the wood you will have nothing. Aim past wood, aim through the wood; aim for the chopping block.”

The metaphor works for me. More than that, it resonates within me. I rarely ever have a clear idea of what the words will be. Like Michelangelo’s sculptures, the words are already there, waiting to be revealed. I don’t operate from some outline and sometimes I don’t even know what I am supposed to be writing, only that I must write. Even if it’s at 4 a.m. in the predawn morning. When the rest of the world is asleep. In my hard wooden folding chair. With my stark reflection staring back at me. I write.

49 comments:

Foster Dogs said...

Fascinating post! Here via Michele's.

Michele said...

It is not just a fascinating post Mike, that short-changes you. It is a well-written, eloquent, and poetic look inside the heart and mind of a writer.

Yes, like many of your other posts. However, this one seems moreso.

Anyone who reads your words is offered a gift that not many can deliver.

Awareness said...

4 am is sometime where eloquence awaits.....i believe you found it...or it found you

well written.... :)

Carmi said...

As I face new deadlines of my own, consequences of my decision to about-face my professional writer's life, I read this and nod agreement with every word.

Beautifully put, Mike; so typical of the great writer that you have become.

Carmi said...

BTW, popped by from Michele's. What an honor that she shared her thoughts here!

craziequeen said...

I'm with Carmi, what an honour to have Michele visit and comment - like a visit from BlogRoyalty :-)

This is such a thought-provoking post, I am impressed by your writing skills......

Michele sent me to say hi today, Mike.

cq

Tiffany said...

Michele sent me to say hi. I would have to agree with the others. Very well written and Fascinating! Im glad I stopped!

kenju said...

"The work, however, may not reflect the agony. The work must flow like a river. The work will either be remembered - or forgotten. But the process, however, can never be known."

So true. Beautiful post, Mike, and Michele said it best. A hard wooden chair? I'd never get anything done, since my butt and legs would go numb after 20 minutes.

PI said...

It must be so difficult to have dead-lines. Mine are only self-imposed - like three posts, at least, a week. It is joyous when the words come unbidden and when they don't, I find losing myself in a task or walking or gardening is conducive to my brain ticking over again. I wonder if this is a version of chopping the wood?
I see Michele has been and she kindly sent me also.

wordnerd said...

Reading a post like this makes me doubt you could ever have writer's block, but I know it happens. I'm glad you didn't today -- this is a thoughtful, provocative piece and I'm glad you shared those feelings with us.

Here via Michele - this visit, anyway.

Linda said...

Your writing is so eloquent! I love to come and read your blog; it's much better when Michele sends me, as she did today!

Moogie said...

Wow! This was wonderful. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a writer and experience those times when the words will not flow, or are not within you. You did a great job with this. You always do. And it's one of the reasons I keep coming back for more.

Tanya (for GreenStone Media) said...

...And you write well! Thanks for sharing this entry! I can't imagine words not coming to you, Mike.

Michele sent me by this afternoon! Happy Friday!

yellojkt said...

What a great description of the writing process.

Michele sent me.

rashbre said...

Great metaphor. I know a similar one about the stonecutter. "Don't think of it as cutting stone - you are building a cathedral...etc".

Same with problems. Good to sometimes do something else instead of thinking about it (not denial) and somehow the solutions pop into the head.

rashbre

craziequeen said...

Hi Mike,
Michele sent me back to say I love that saying of Michaelangelo...
that the statues were in the stone waiting to be discovered....

cq

shoeaddict said...

I wrote you a big long comment the other day and it got lost somewhere in blog world. You should know, first, that your comment on my story/essay "frckle face" changed my life. I know that sounds dramatic but, it's true.

This post is something I identify with. I'm constantly writing stories in my head or maybe it's that the stories are being told to me? That sounds crazy. I often find myself itching to write. Overwhelmed with the need, in fact and then when I'm all ready for the words, the freeze up. I think sometimes it's just too much. If I just breathe, it will eventually just flow, like you said.

I know that what I'm trying to say is not nearly as beautiful as what you wrote but, it was so amazing. Amazing to read something I feel in my soul.

Michele sent me this time.

Bernie said...

I have, on several occasions, been up until quite late, or very early depending on what way you look at it... Generally at about 4.30am!
It is at this time of the night/morning, thats some of the best work can be achieved! For me, alas, it has been study, but seeing as though this has been posted at just after 5am, this is an acurate look at a marvolous piece of work.
Here from Michele's on a cool and wet Sydney evening (6.36pm)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I'm jumping up and down, Mike. You are inside me.

Of course, I still have the comfy chair, but there's lots of reasons for it. I'm not letting go of it so fast.

Write on, brother-man.

Congrats on prompting a new game from Michele!

Catheroo said...

Wow. This is wonderful writing, Mike. So many times I have felt the same way as you do, although never have I been able to put it so eloquently.

Are you familiar with the Chicago song "25 or 6 to 4"? You should look up those lyrics. When I have "writer's block" I think of those words. (Not that it makes my own words come, but I remember the song nonetheless.)

I'm so glad Michele chose this as post of the week, or I may have missed it. A gem.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Amazing! You start out with nothing and wind up with a treasure. Very well "spoken."

(P.S. Found you from Michele's site.)

Stephanie Davies said...

Very lovely post :) The secret of wood chopping is very similar to striking a baseball to hit a homer or possibly punching someone...you aim past your target for fullest effect. Thank you for sharing. Michele sent me to read you today!

aka_Monty said...

What a perfect post to introduce a Post Of The Week.

There have been times when I have wished to be gifted with writing talents...this is one of them, so that I could turn out something even half as meaningful.

But this: "excise those that do not fit" gets in my way...in fact, the thoughts and words that do not fit often become the ONLY words I can find.

I'm so happy Michele chose you and this post. I happy that I had the opportunity to read it.

kwrenb said...

Ahhh...
I remember this story from Annie Dillard. I didn't recognize the title on Michelle's blog - I was reading too quickly and I thought you called your blog The Woodchopper...
It is a meaningful story, I'm so happy to be reminded of it again here.
Aim for the block.
Thank you.
Karen

Theo said...

i write. i am not a writer, not really. i have a love for words, but it is the feel of them, the ability to twist a moment of feeling and awareness toward someone esle.i guess i like to tell stories. but, i hate the disciple of writing.

i admire your clearity here. i envy your commitment. well done.

Michele sent me.

Judy Thomas said...

I'm here from Michele's as well, but I always enjoy coming by. This is a beautifully written post and I hope you don't mind if I include a link to it in my Monday post. Thank you for sharing your insights. As always, they are well worth reading.

Jennifer said...

I'm here from Michele's, although I read every new post in my Google Reader. I wish I had your gift for words...usually, even my comments seem inadequate to me. You have a gift. i can only write when I have some sort of inspiration, and my mind is too scrambled for me to find my inspiration, usually!! :)

Thumper said...

I read this on Friday, but as I said over at Michele's, I simply didn't have the right words to comment on it. It clicked with me; I have those 4 a.m. moments when all there happens to be is my dull reflection in the monitor and my fingernails impatiently tapping on my desk as I try to coax out that fragment of a sentence sitting Just So on the tip of my mind's tongue. It can be hard to walk away sometimes, because you can feel the words bubbling, and if you get up to do something else, they might never pop out.

I've been waiting for weeks for a dead guy to tell me how my current story ends. He's sitting at a kitchen table buried deep in my head, playing with a can of Diet Coke, and I cannot get him to tell me how everything. He waits as if that's my job. But it's not, and I'm not sure anyone other than another writer can understand that, and how frustrating it can be.

rosemary said...

Here from Michele's. Lovely, simply lovely.

michelle said...

great post, mike. love all your posts..
visiting thru michele today

Kelli in the Mirror said...

This is my first time to read a post of yours, since Michele sent me, and I can see why you've got the Thinking Blogger Award over there. Very thought-provoking and eloquent.

Melody said...

Wow Mike. What a wonderfully written post. Sometimes I too just sit there (though not at 4am) and wonder what I will blog about today. Sometimes I lie in bed and think of exactly what I am to write but when it comes to the crunch those words are forgotten. Thanks for sharing your words.

I'm here via Michele today. I'm glad she is sending everyone over.

Mamacita (Mamacita) said...

Wonderful. Simply wonderful. I teach writing, and I thank you.

gautami tripathy said...

I can relate to most of it. Sometimes I want to write and words just don't come. I try to prod and make those flow. But my mind kind of blocks. I have found a way to deal with that state. I sit down, carefully choose some words and work around by forming structured poetry. After a bit of struggle, the river of words flows.It does not matter if it is 4 a m or 4 p m.

For a writer, it is very difficult to have a day with no words.

Another way I deal with that is I write reviews of the books I finished.

I am very glad Michele sent me here.

I will visit more often. Maybe I will link it with mine if you don't mind!

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

i have been touched with these emotions too.....4am, the coming of morning, of light, of possibility....

one of the finest posts i have read mike - excellent

Bev Sykes said...

Whenever I think I can "write," I read something like this and realize that I am but a poseur. Thank you for sharing. I am glad that Michele directed us to this post.

Linda said...

I have read this post several times, and I keep coming back to it (whether Michele sent me or not). And I envy the way you write.

I enjoy writing, but when I sit to write, I don't often have the words to put down. Not really writer's block, but more a fear that what I want to say will not be expressed in the words I write. That there will be so much feeling left out. And so, I leave it all trapped inside my brain. Then I try to creatively "juice" the gray mass locked in bone and create things through scrapbooking and photography.

Thank you for sharing these thoughts with us.

Finn said...

Well, I think you did just fine with this piece.

Have you ever considered, when this happens, just picking up a pad and pen and going outside or something? Sometimes just a change of venue can help.

Michele sent me today -- I should thank her!

belle said...

- here from Michele's -
I've read a few posts around the place concerning that lack of inspiration ,,, and the urge to write at inconvenient times.
I'm not a writer - oh, you guessed? - but I'm a great believer in relaxing and going with the flow ... let the thoughts, ideas and words filter up ... they do eventually.
Hence my blog goes in fits and starts ...

mar said...

Your blog is fascinating , congrats for being "post of the week". Reading your posts is both a pleasure and a challenge for someone like me whose first language isn't English... I enjoy the way you use words, how you formulate your sentences for your thoughts to achieve a physical form. My writing is limited since I don't have a full command of the language, I lived in the US for some college years but that's over 25 years ago... I chose your language to blog (and not my mother tongue which is Spanish, neither German which we speak at home) to reach (more) people and to get my brain cells going. It is a privilege to have you visiting my blog through Michele's M&G game, I visit you more than I say but many times I need time to "digest" the words and don't leave a comment because I am afraid to spoil the the whole thing... Thanks for sharing your fine writing.

wordnerd said...

Me again ... this time to congratulate you on being selected as Post of the Week. I knew when I read it that it was something special -- it's wonderful to see how many others agree!

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

In a way, Mike, it's like "Automatic Writing"..you know what I mean...? The words just pore from you as if they came from some divine spirit!
Wonderfyl Post, my dear...

I must say, that hard wooden chair would do me in...LOL!

Sara said...

What a wonderful view into the mind of a writer! Thank you so much for sharing! I think that all creative people (no matter what their medium) experience some of what you speak of.

I am so glad that Michele sent me over to visit you!!!

barbie2be said...

this is good advice for any writer. especially one suffering from writers block.

jsdaughter said...

I was riveted by this post. I felt as if I were with you at 4am.. I sometimes fumble with words on a blog comment.. I have great respect for those of you who can touch lives with words. I found you thanks to Michele, and I will be back.

texasblu said...

You have a wonderful way with words. Very eloquently put. :)

Here via Michele - I look forward to reading more.

Radioactive Jam said...

I too found my way here via Michele's post, and I'm glad I did. Time well spent, for my part.

Now I want to look around and read more; I expect I will find much to like.

"Call it a hunch." -- Igor

mckay said...

lust lil ol' me. (oops meant to type JUST) ha!


“Aim for the chopping block. If you aim for the wood you will have nothing. Aim past wood, aim through the wood; aim for the chopping block.”

fan friggin tastic. that's a keeper. thanks, pal.

mck.

Pia K said...

Lovely written - "...only that I must write." So true!