“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.”
Discovering what we believe — the ideas and wisdom that we want to share through our writing — is no easy feat. And discovering the most effective form in which to convey what we want to say is no cake walk either. My friend Linda loaned me a terrific (and newly updated) guide called, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner — now an agent with Dunow, Carlson and Lerner Literary Agency. In her book, Betsy discusses the vital importance of “finding your form,” and quotes Mark Twain — a legendary author both opinionated and prolific.
In his own book of advice, On Writing and Publishing, our boy Mark tells of trying to find a way into a story he wanted to write about Joan of Arc. Over more than a decade, he started this project six times without success. Here’s what he says about it:
“There are some books that refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn’t because the book isn’t there and isn’t worth being written. It is only because the right form does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story , and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself. You may try a dozen wrong forms but in each case you will not get very far before you discover that you have not found the right one — and that the story will always stop and decline to go further.”
Fascinating comment, isn’t it? The whole idea that stories have a mind of their own and know the best way to tell themselves — and resist any and all attempts by a writer to stuff them into the wrong form — is totally intriguing.
Have you ever found yourself struggling to find the right form for a story? Did you know without a doubt when you’d hit upon the absolutely best way of telling it? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Write on!