The Photographer & the Writer

At a New Year’s Party I ran into a photographer and had a brief but memorable conversation. After commenting on how little I’d changed in the years since we saw one another on a regular basis at Tango dances, he asked me a very strange question:

“Are you still writing?”

How could he wonder about that? Of course, I’m still writing. I’m always writing. After I assured him that I’m still writing and that I never stopped, I asked about his photography. He replied that the studio was history—the typical story of NYC rent hikes killing a longtime business. I remember the studio with fondness. He hosted occasional dances in that extraordinary space and displayed beautiful photos on the walls.

“I’m writing now,” he announced. He then went on to tell me that as a photographer he knew exactly how to achieve the beauty that he wanted. He knew instantly how to set up the perfect shot, the film speed, the lighting, the contrast, etc. “But writing is like vomiting out the words.”

I was a little taken aback. Do I just “vomit out the words” without thought, plans for a story arc, context, symmetry, character development, pacing, language, without plotting, and everything else that occupies a storyteller’s mind? No, of course not. But there was a kernel of truth—just a tiny kernel—in his analogy.

“You spill the first draft out.” I replied. “You spill the first draft, but there’s the hard work in rewriting in the second and third drafts…”

I don’t think he got it. I’m guessing that once his words made their way to the page (electronic or paper) he thought the writing was done.

Hahahahaha…… I’m not diminishing the importance of that initial spill, and occasional splatter, of words. Not at all, but the work of writing, the art of writing doesn’t end at that point. It’s just the beginning.

Lately I’ve been marveling at the input of the unconscious on first draft writing. It’s as if my subconscious is planting plot point seeds from my unconscious that I only see as the task of getting the first draft down progresses. The throwaway mention of an idea, person or place in the first chapter, becomes the pivotal idea, person or place in the climax of the tale. Did I intend that from the start? No, not in a conscious outlined manner, but it’s real.

So here’s to writing in 2018—conscious as a final draft and as mysterious as messages spilled on the page form the unconscious, too.

I illustrate most of blog posts with my snapshots. Although some are pretty, I know the difference between photographs & snapshots…