The Gap

In laying out this week’s Discover Challenge, Ben H. offers a thought-provoking quote from food-blogger Deb Perelman:

I think of creative pursuits — anything from painting and writing to synchronized swimming — as an ongoing struggle to close a gap between your idea for what the painting, essay, or routine should be, and how it’s in fact coming out. The more you work at it, the closer it gets to what you have in your head. The more you work at it, the easier it gets. If you’re reading your writing and it doesn’t sound like what you wanted to say, the way you wanted to say it, keep at it until it does.

Ben challenges us to consider how we, as writers, “Mind the Gap” – about “the struggle to close the gap between an idea and its realization.”

My first, class-clownish impulse is to say that writing, for me, is nothing like synchronized swimming. This impulse stems from the personal truth that I almost never have a plan when I write. I am not seeking to execute a preconceived goal; I am just writing! Winging it! Shooting from the hip! 

But give me a minute and I can get there. Another personal truth is that when I set out to write about my experience of schizophrenia, I did have some goals. Primarily, I wanted to disclose to friends and family just what had been and was going on with me (because my break with reality was characterized by solo travels, and most of the people I know and care about did not see me in my state of psychosis, or when they did, I hid it as well as I could.) Another goal was to create a sort of open case history of schizophrenia in order to demystify the disease and fight the stigma of violent behavior attached to it. 

So, thinking back across the several years now since I wrote my books on Sz, what was my experience of ‘closing the gap’ between what I was trying to accomplish and what I had in my hands – the manuscripts?

What comes readily to mind is the process I underwent with the editor I was assigned by my publisher. She bridled right away at the manner in which I had chosen to structure some of the dialogue and internal dialogue in the manuscript. I had intentionally allowed my words to mirror my jumbled mindset – something along the lines of The Sound and The Fury.

My editor was not going for my Faulknerian literary aspirations. She felt that her role was to work towards making the work more accessible to the reader, and her strenuous recommendation was that I follow the received conventions of punctuation and paragraphing and quotation-marking throughout the book. I wound up following her guidance on this, with the end result, I believe, of a book that was (if less artistic) easier to read.

The upshot of this little anecdote, I suppose, is that sometimes one has to sacrifice certain, say, flourishes, in order to attain the essential goal of reaching the reader.

And so, sometimes, getting across the gap in writing between intent and product means compromise.

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