As soon as I read the fifth page of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, I knew I was in for a treat. When I described to my husband my stolen moments of snatching a few pages at a time, I said it was like eating candy. One of those Christopher Elbow chocolates with delicate, golden filigree on top and creamy ganache in the middle. Something sweet that you want to eat slowly – to savor; not the sugar-spike of a Jolly Rancher. It was delicious to consume Doerr’s beautifully crafted words. I even said some aloud, just to enjoy the sound. Let the syllables roll off my tongue and hit the air with a crackle.
“The eggs taste like clouds. Like spun gold… ‘How about peaches, dear?’ murmurs Madame Manec, and Marie-Laure can hear a can opening, juice slopping into a bowl. Seconds later, she’s eating wedges of wet sunlight.”
It left me full-up with the glory of language and it’s ability to convey feeling, but also with an empty longing. I got in the shower one morning, after ingesting a particularly lovely turn of phrase, with a sentence rolling through my head: I want to write something heartbreakingly beautiful. It repeated itself over and over. An ache of creativity hoping to escape. It was a rather selfish desire, I will fully admit, but one with which most writers can relate. When you love words – even the sounds of letters all by themselves – putting them together in new and fascinating ways to describe emotions as old as time, with which every single human can relate, feels like electricity in your veins. Not so much that it kills you, but enough to deliver a jolt and make you feel supremely alive.
When you get down to the bare bones of writing, that’s the joy. Take away the personal therapy it can provide, the (generally tiny amount of) money you can make from it, the blessing it can be to others (where would I be without Anne Lamott and Josh Ritter), and the conveyance of information, and a writer is left with words. The pure pleasure of consonants and vowels, nouns and adjectives, even helping verbs. And the desire from somewhere inside to get them outside. Like a child playing in a sandbox, with the tactile amusement of wet sand and dry – the scooping and pouring and molding of it – is a writer, given ten minutes and a writing prompt.
I never understand writers who say they hate to write. Who say they like the outcome, but not the actual process of writing. I (judmentally) think they aren’t really writers. They might type words onto a screen, make lots of money; their whole lives might revolve around the act of writing. But it’s hard for me to give them that title. It feels wrong.
Sometimes it’s a slog. Sometimes it’s full-on work – not playing in a sandbox at all. But even the work is gratifying. Like piecing together a puzzle. And the frustration of not knowing where the pieces go is part of the beauty of eventually figuring it out. Sometimes my five year old will give an exasperated “Ughhhhhhh” when she’s stuck on her 48 piece butterfly floor puzzle. But she will eventually return to it. Out of love for puzzles. The mixture of challenge and play. The satisfaction of two pieces sliding in next to each other just so. And then she smiles. And says “I did it!” And she did.
So I want to write something heartbreakingly beautiful. I’m sticking to that selfish, word-loving phrase. And when I do, I’ll say “I did it!” And smile. All the words that ever were are my sandbox, and it’s just about time to play.