I've been thinking a lot about how writers see the world. Recently on Facebook, a writer I really, really admire (the extraordinary Rhian Ellis, who wrote After Life, which I've written about here before) was telling me how she had been arrested for protesting some white supremacists in her neighborhood. I instantly peppered her with questions. What did it feel like to be in a cop car? Did she have handcuffs and did they hurt her wrists? What did the cops say? I kept seeing the pictures in my mind, imagining the story, carrying it further than what she had told me.
"Caroline, you're such a writer!" she said, and then she said that the thing she remembered about the experience was that she was trying to make story out of it. She was seeing characters and plots, beginnings and ends and a story arc. I know this feeling all too well. I asked her, "Do you ever stop in a moment of intense emotion or drama and think: I can use this. Or: I need to remember this?" And she said Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
It got me thinking. Writers spend their time shaping stories, living in worlds they make up that are as alive to us as any. We dramatize events. We over-worry when we board a plane and imagine the danger in the cockpit, the way we might escape, the relief in our bodies when we hit ground. We see the story in events that others might just see as a detour in their day, something for them that might not have a beginning, middle, crisis and end, and we create narratives where there really are none. (Give me an apple, and I'll give you a story. I promise it.)
But I'm of two minds. Sometimes I think we writers need to be more in the moment. Sometimes, a child coming over to us in a park is simply a child coming over to us, and not a child who was taken from his mother in a custody battle, or a child who had vanished who has suddenly reappeared. Sometimes it's important to just see and appreciate what is right there in front of us.
But then again....this urge, this delicious compulsion to make a story of everything, is as natural and essential as breathing.
Causes Caroline Leavitt Supports
The Writers' Strike Writers Against the War PETA