Write (to Figure Out) What you Know

I like to write. I like reading what other people have written. I like thinking about the ways in which stories (fiction or non) are crafted and put together. It’s fun and interesting to parse out how they were told, and how that plays into what kind of magical or prosaic dances of idea re-arrangement they can pull off inside our heads.

So yeah, I’m a word nerd. And now that the book about our bookstore is coming out this October, people sometimes chat with me about writing. Almost inevitably the words come up: “you wrote about what you knew, your bookstore.”

Well, yes and no. I wrote about the bookstore more to figure out what was going on than to express what I knew. Perhaps Joan Didion put it best: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.”

Writing organizes and orders our experiences, extrapolates meaning out of random events, reminds us that life is short but wide, as the Mexican proverb says. They day in front of us doesn’t always look like a part of anything bigger than itself, but it’s hooked to a whole life that builds to more than the sum of its daily parts. In writing, when you lay down what happens in a day next to what happened the day (or week, or month) before and the day (or week, etc.) after, it’s easier to see that what happened is more important than just what happened.

Perhaps writing is like marking the growth of a child against a door frame. Inch after slow, unfeelable inch, you can suddenly look back over three years and say, “Wow! Growth!” But you wouldn’t have seen that movement if it hadn’t been marked down.

That’s what “the bookstore book” (as we call it at our house) did for me. Five years of growing a shop, of learning to live in and among a community, measured against life’s door frame. No, it wasn’t so much “writing what I know” as to find out what I knew.

But I will tell you something about the act of writing our story down: although I’m over the moon that Little Bookstore is getting published, trying to remember and capture all the silly, strange incidents of day-to-day life on paper was almost as much fun as living through them the first time, in and of itself. Looking back at those little penciled lines against the doorway makes me smile.



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4 responses to “Write (to Figure Out) What you Know

  1. I too have found the organization of experienced thoughts into writing very helpful. I am amazed at the response and resonance with my words. I had used photos as a memory bank now with blog, it is more dynamic, multitactorial.

  2. Every time I write, I pause after thirty minutes or so (whenever my hand starts to cramp), look at all the ink on the page, and think, holy cow, I was thinking *all that*?? It can be enlightening.

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