I think that oral storytelling is the most important kind that there is. It makes up so much of our daily lives. When a friend relates an anecdote, when a parent tells you a parable, when a teacher reads a passage of Shakespeare aloud... All of it helps pass down a story. Think about how old The Odyssey is, how old myths and The Bible are. Those were all stories that have been passed down through the ages, often aloud, face-to-face. There is a power to the spoken word.
(Photo by Oscar Keys)
Today, I had a work date with a friend. She was working on illustrations for an upcoming children's book while I worked on my draft of the next Tremolo chapter. However, I hit a wall. I just hated everything I'd written so far. I thought maybe if I forced the chapter out I could edit it afterwards and whip it into shape, but nothing felt right. It didn't flow.
"Read me what you've got so far!" my friend said.
So I did. She listened attentively and had me repeat a few passages. Just by reading them aloud, some things started making more sense to me. I started to realize what the problem was, but I still couldn't figure a way out. She and I talked out my plans for the chapter: the atmosphere I wanted, the things that were going to happen. There were some similes I was dead set on using that she critiqued. Some sentences didn't make sense. Subtle changes in her expression (or not so subtle, maybe) told me how she felt about each part. I drew diagrams. We discussed different ways things could play out. She told me her ideas and I clapped my hands together in delight.
I ended up fixating on the first sentence, the first paragraph. I've always had a certain amount of anxiety towards first sentences and last sentences. The only thing more important than a first impression is a final impression.
"I think the first sentence is very important. It's ok to spend a little more time agonizing over it," I joked, trying to hide how much it truly meant to me.
"Hmm... You're trying too hard, though. You don't have to fit everything into that first sentence. Sometimes the first sentence just simply flows into the next."
She helped me visualize the forest better, the [REDACTED] scene in the dark of the woods. My friend has significantly more hiking and camping experience than I do.
Mid-sentence, mid-discussion of [REDACTED], the perfect phrasing hit me like a lightning bolt. I quite rudely cut off my friend with an "I got it! Just a second, I need to get this down...!" I started a new document and started typing away, throwing my original draft out the window. Patiently, kindly, knowingly, my dear friend returned to her illustrations and let me focus.
She's still uncertain until that very first step she takes off the path in pursuit of the light. Then, it's as if a tightly pulled violin string has snapped mid-concours. All that hesitation, all that preparation—a life spent slaving away to that tyrant called Ideals—seems ridiculous. It doesn't matter anymore. The campsite is soon just a speck behind her. Her muscles, crying in agony, are silenced by sheer determination. Even her sense of danger, her reason, is discarded like a shed snakeskin. One does not need common sense once the path has been left behind. It is simply of no use.
I was able to write this because of my friend, because of the discussion we had. Her patience and excited encouragement was so important. We can't create in a bubble. Even Michelangelo had his Humanist academy. The Beat Poets had other Beat Poets. The Brontës had each other. To grow and to refine your work as a creative, you simply need other people.
Of course, the passage is not perfect. My writing will probably never be perfect.
And that's okay. I need it to be okay.