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Friday Speak Out!: Reflections: On Writerly Presence


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by Catherine Gentile

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Writing, much like a loving relationship, builds upon presence, a willingness to commit to a process that runs the gamut from inspiration to dogged pursuit of the right phrase, dynamic themes, and engaging characterization. When I consider writing a new piece, a creative tension grows within me; I ask myself questions: What form will best suit this work? What do I need to know in order to convey my imaginings? When I’ve completed the final draft, will I like it? More importantly, will my readers?

Engaging in the writing process takes the kind of effort that reminds me of arranging a date with a friend for quiet get-together, that special time when you both silence your cell phones, then sip your favorite fresh-brewed cuppas, attention fully, completely trained on one another. Such depth of focus, whether real or imagined, opens the flood gates for my writing. Thoughts, ideas, hopes, secrets, tumble out naked, exposing themselves in conversation and later, on my computer screen.

Writing is a sensory experience, involving all the senses: the tactile of pen or pencil scratching against paper, the clack of the keyboard capturing the protagonist as she shifts her posture, her thoughtful eyes brimming with questions that, once I enclose them within quotation marks, stimulate yet another neural pathway, that of sound, intonation, language laden with implications crucial to the themes I’m developing within my story.

Presence urges me to turn inward, focus on my reactions to the praise and criticism generated from deep within. I watch for blips, warnings that thoughts that felt glorious when they were in their inspirational phase might need longer gestation periods. I have learned that my blips won’t be silenced until I agree to lose the glorious paragraph I agonized over. My inner voice will complain: That’s exquisite writing, especially in the portrayal of my character’s emotional being. My sense of commitment has little patience with the whining: What’s it got to do with this chapter? You must delete the little intruder before it distracts your reader.

I acquiesce. Clarity is of key importance, as is pushing unnecessary information aside so the reader can interact with my words, connect them with her experiences, and weave them into a deliciously complex tableau of give and take.

I sense when to withdraw my presence and seek sustenance in other reserves. I give myself permission to take a break, go into my garden or stroll along my favorite footpath. Oxygen floods my writer’s brain. Refreshes my writer’s soul. Helps break the bonds of tired phrases, opens me to explore new combinations, some overlooked in their obviousness and, others, refreshingly novel.

These are gifts, discoveries unearthed within the writing process. Be open to them, and they will move your writing relationship forward. They will renew the reserve that feeds your cherished writing relationship and with it, your writerly presence.

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Learn more about Catherine Gentile’s writing process and about the publication of her latest novel, Sunday’s Orphan: www.catherinegentile.com

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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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