Roger Rosenblatt’s ‘invisible forces’

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a New York Times article by Roger Rosenblatt….

I spend much of my working life thinking about writing. But when I read Roger Rosenblatt’s profoundly insightful New York Times piece, headlined, “The Invisible Forces that Make Writing Work,” I felt as though I’d never thought about writing at all.

Speculating that there are three invisible forces —  things the writer sees that the reader does not; things the reader sees that the writer does not; and things neither of us sees — Rosenblatt (pictured above) meditates as to why we choose certain words or phrases or settings in our writing. One of his images particularly captivated me: “Many a writer has started out certain of a particular direction only to change course midway, as though a ghost’s hand took the tiller.”

But I especially liked his discussion of the most mysterious force — one seen neither by the writer nor the reader — as shown by the example of Jules Feiffer. Here’s the story in Rosenblatt’s words:

Feiffer tells the story of starting his cartoons for The Village Voice. Before his first strip came out, his mother — who terrified and tyrannized Jules — warned him that if there were a terrifying, tyrannizing woman in the strip, it better not look like her! Confident that his drawing looked nothing like his mother, Jules assured her she was safe. When the strip came out, Jules writes in his memoir, he stared at it. There was his mother.

I teach others to write and recognize that some people want a 10-easy-step version of how to succeed. “No,” I have to tell them. “It doesn’t work that way.”

I can help you get started and I can make the job easier. But part of the writing process will always remain mysterious.

My thanks to Peter Wilson for alerting me to the New York Times story.

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