by Joe Novara
All of us have selective perceptive. If a woman walks into a room of four people, one might remark her clothes; another, her shoes; another, eyes; another, total manner and poise. The same is true of the world at large. Each of us notices specific things—music, dogs, cars—and finds ourselves making judgments based on our feelings about the kind of dog a person is walking, or the car he is driving or the music throbbing from its lowered window.
It’s this kind of personalized, heightened awareness of the world around us that is the basis of voice…a writer’s voice. That’s what we look for in a good writer…what does he or she see that I don’t? We look to heighten our own perceptions through theirs. And when we, in turn, write, the challenge is the same—to own up to our unique fixations, to have the confidence to share them. That’s what makes good writing so embarrassing. We’re putting ourselves out there beyond formulaic story-lines and crossword puzzle mystery plots. Our insights are the texture, the spice that makes our chili stand out in the long line of potluck offerings called publishing.
Writing also mines our own experience…other’s as well, if we are good listeners. Ernest Hemingway in True at First Light puts it this way:
…all a writer of fiction is really is a congenital liar who invents from his own knowledge or that of other men. I am a writer of fiction and so I am a liar too and invent from what I know and that I heard. I am a liar…my excuse is that I make the truth as I invent it truer than it would be. That is what makes good writers or bad.
Journaling is a way to lock down the impressions, the experiences, the fragments of feelings and insights that bombard us all day long. It’s tweeting ourselves in an effort to be mindful. Occasionally, I’ll read some of my past journals and be surprised that one entry or another has shown up in a story I’ve since written. The fact of transcription has buried it in my long-term memory hard drive. It seems that the synergy of journaling is such that the more I force myself to document, the more I notice…not unlike having a camera on an outing keeps your eye fresh and searching.
Funny, when I’ve been stuck trying to visualize a character in one of my stories, I’ll actually go looking for him or her. For example, I needed a Mexican-American mother, so I wandered through a Latino neighborhood in Chicago. I stopped at a soccer game. None of the spectator mothers fit. But that evening, she tap-tap- tapped on spiked heels into a family restaurant and later into my story. I suppose it’s like being in the market for a new house. You have to have your searchlight on so you recognize what you’re looking for when you see it.