I recently borrowed from the library Ursula Le Guin's collection of talks and essays, The Wave in the Mind. It's quite an interesting book, lots of good stuff in there for writers, but what I wanted to bring up was a quote by Virginia Woolf which Le Guin placed at the very beginning of the book:
As for the mot juste, you are quite wrong. Style is a very simple matter: it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can't use the wrong words. But on the other hand here am I sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can't dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it; and in writing (such is my present belief) one has to recapture this, and set this working (which has nothing apparently to do with words) and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it. But no doubt I shall think differently next year.
--Virginia Woolf, writing to Vita Sackville-West, March 1926
I think this idea is very interesting, that the rhythm of the story may manifest in the writer's mind before the actual words. I wonder, how many writers actually experience this? How many of us try to find the rhythm in our mind, and then make the words fit it, and how many of us try to find the perfect words to express what we're trying to say, and leave rhythm for poets? Is one technique better than the other?
August 31st, 2006, 04:36 PM
As I was reading the quote, it seemed to me to be a point related to the stuff about "voice". So I read it as saying something like - Finding a voice to express the story establishes a certain rhythm in the prose, which makes it easier to come up with sentences and the words in them. That seems superior to finding the perfect word in isolation of everything else, because I dont think there is a perfect word in isolation from the story. For example, 'eloquent' is a lovely word, but "talks nice" would be superior in a certain contexts.
August 31st, 2006, 05:04 PM
Very interesting. I find this fragment:
A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it; and in writing (such is my present belief) one has to recapture this, and set this working (which has nothing apparently to do with words) and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it. particularly intriguing because it somewhat describes how my first book came about.
I was on vacation in New Zealand, Auckland to be precise, and my wife and I were hiking to the top of Rangitoto Island in the bay. Now, Rangitoto is a relatively small, volcanic island, with no permanent habitation. It is a nice day hike, with interesting flora and with a great view all around the bay from the observation deck on the lip of the (obviously inactive) volcano. At one point in the hike we found a side trail that went into a long, open lava tube winding down to the sea. One could just see the water at the bottom. That sight instantly created a feeling in me, that a man had gone down through this cave, to a secret cove at the bottom opening onto the sea, and there had found hidden a little boat in which he sailed away.
It was not a rhythm in my mind, at least I would not describe it as such, but an intense certainty that this man had done this and that I needed to know who he was, why he went to the bottom of the cave, and where he sailed. By the time that we boarded the plane back to home I was already furiously outlining his story.
A sight or an emotion creates an intense necessity, almost a compulsion, in the writer to disgorge the nascent story. Yes. I've woken up many nights unable to go back to sleep until I get out of bed and write down a passage, or a sentence, or sometimes even just a single word. Yes, I can see writing, true writing, as a wave that overcomes your mind, like a tsunami of creativity that sweeps the writer along and away. Yes, and it would be nice if the tsunami could be controlled, called upon at need or desire, but . . . alas.
August 31st, 2006, 05:45 PM
For the past three nights, two guys have been dancing in my thoughts as I try to sleep, when I wake in the middle of the night, when I awake in the morning. I know who they are and what they're up to and they are damned impatient with me that I have not put them into words as of yet. Their time is coming. That wave is about to break.
August 31st, 2006, 06:40 PM
It's been said that the greatest novels are never written and the most enjoyable stories never told because the people who have them in their heads never find an adequate way of explaining them in words. I think a lot can be lost in the journey from leaving the space between your ears onto the page/screen, sometimes stories are just too hard to tell for all the effort in trying.
September 1st, 2006, 11:01 AM
I wouldn't be suprised if neurologically, this is a good metaphor for how the brain works. Drawing on input from memories and to a lesser extent immediate surroundings, activity in the creative centre of the brain forms images, ideas and concepts. Then these are fed into the logic centre that tries to assemble them in some sort of coherent order - adding temporal flow, context, and drawing initial ideas to their natural conclusions. Once a reasonably organzed thought chain is strung together, it is shipped over to the word forming part of the brain. The wave "crashes." Finally, the words are converted into neural patterns which are funelled down the brain stem and into the fingers or mouth or whatever.
When you have lots of ideas floating around - you get lots of noise in your head. Little fluctuations that interfere with each other and compete for attention. But when you really get into your groove. The noise dies down. The relevant waves add constructively. You are able to focus. And the words all seem to fit.
September 2nd, 2006, 09:33 AM
I like your interpretation, Choppy. It makes perfect logical sense the way you explained it. Perhaps writing isn't so mystical an experience after all; but of course it's fun to imagine it's so.
I do like the metaphor of the wave in the mind. It seems to describe what I sometimes experience when I'm trying to write: I can hear the rhythm in my head that I want the sentence or paragraph to have, the feel of it, but I can't find the right words to fit into that rhythm--my waves rarely crash, but just keep on going...which is why I haven't written all that much. I get frustrated because I can't find the right words to fit my ideas.
Brian, your story sounds interesting, and I love the way you discovered it. Did you end up completing the story?