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Fishing: An Image for Writing and Healing

Posted on May 31, 2007 by

The following passage, from Peter Elbow’s Writing Without Teachers, resonates nicely with the image that Michelle Huneven uses for conversation in her novel, Jamesland. There she writes about conversation as an unwinding ball of string. Here, the string is cast out onto the water:

Elbow writes [p. 77]:

Writing is a string you send out to connect yourself with other consciousnesses, but usually you never have the opportunity to feel anything at the other end. How can you tell whether you’ve got a fish if the line is always slack?

The teacherless writing class tries to remedy this situation. It tries to take you out of darkness and silence. It is a class of seven to twelve people. It meets at least once a week. Everyone reads everyone else’s writing. Everyone tries to give each writer a sense of how his words were experienced. The goal is for the writer to come as close as possible to being able to see and experience his own words through seven or more people. That’s all.

To improve your writing you don’t need advice about what changes to make; you don’t need theories of what is good and bad writing. You need movies of people’s minds while they read your words.

This is, I think, a terribly interesting notion—that what we may really want—at least some of the time—when we put words out there—is not evaluation—or approval—or even agreement—but this something else—this other thing–—this kind of movie of someone else’s mind—a movie of another consciousness receiving the words.

Would this be the fish then? The fish caught?
And this as one way out of darkness and silence?
And, at the same time, a way to make writing clearer and stronger and more meaningful?
Well, I’m all for that—-