For today’s writing post, I’m borrowing words from several exchanges I’ve had this week with writer/author friends.
The first one came while I was at St. Ben’s. My friend L and I were discussing the writing process, and she said that at a conference she attended recently, one of the presenters shared that an editor once told him every author has one story to tell, and he/she tells it over and over again in every book he/she writes. L added that children’s writer E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web) “once wrote that all he ever wanted to say in his books is how much he loves this world.”
Later that same day, during an exchange on a writers’ listserv, J shared an excerpt by Elizabeth Gilbert that struck her while reading a book on memoir-writing. Gilbert had advised writers “pick one, single person in the world and tell your story directly to them.” She said that by not doing this, your story will not have a direct personal voice and “wanders and fluctuates from page to page, speaking into a meaningless vacuum.” Each book, story or article you’re writing should be directed at one person, though that person can be different with each work. Choose the person who would be most interested in the topic, she said, “and never let them out of your sight.”
“Keep that person in the room with you (mentally, that is) the whole time you’re writing — even speak aloud to that person, asking, ‘Are you following me here? Is this getting boring? Am I explaining too much? Would you like to hear a funnier story now?’…In the end, what happens when you write like this is that perfect strangers will read your work later, and come up to you and say, ‘I felt like you were talking directly to me.”
The collision of these two thought-provoking exchanges happened within a 24-hour period, making me feel it was a less-than-coincidental convergence. In essence, we’ve got the narrowing down of the writing process to one: one person, one story.
Makes it seem simple, doesn’t it? Perhaps it can help simplify things a bit. Maybe you’ve already been doing this but just hadn’t given it much thought.
I’ve been thinking about the “theory of one” a lot this week, and I think I’ve narrowed down my “one story.” It has something to do with hope and beauty borne of suffering. I hate to throw the suffering aspect into it, but I think that would be truer than to just say “hope and beauty.” Oftentimes, it’s only through suffering that we can truly see the world in all its splendor, after all.
Do you know who and what your one person and one story are?