Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Fate of the Manuscript, Authenticity of Voice and the Literary Heart of the Matter

Pondering the fate of a manuscript: the fluid extension of a much-belabored theme, an extended thought-experiment given life and breath by literary actors traversing the constructed stage. They are borne of us these narrative musings, a manifestation of accumulated understandings, a unique perspective on the quintessential elements of being human. For each of us carry our individual stories etched and inscribed in the frailty of bone and skin - or buried beneath, keeping dark turbulent company with other best-forgottens, the experiences of a life made manifest in dendritic pathways that illuminate the neural network like branched lightening beneath a brooding cloudmass.

Some few of us choose the vocation of writer, or perhaps the vocation chooses us....either way we endeavor to translate this sequence of emotive experiences, squeezing ephemeral wisps into the rigid concreteness of black and white verbiage. These penned narratives are partially our own, but also accrue from our freely-sprung imaginings....a thought given wing. Writers immerse themselves into a fabricated reality, an alternative universe populated by characters made dear by a mental cohabitation that often lasts for years - and even after they have departed from the close confines of mind, after they have taken poignant leave-taking in all published finality, they still remain a vital part of the one that brought them into existence; the parental pen.

But for those authors grappling with innumerable questions of publication, of dancing the convoluted route of query, synopsis, and SASE, for those contemplating alternative avenues - grasping the literary self-publishing bull by the horns and hoisting on the authorial back the exhausting burden of marketing, the fine-print caveats of Amazonian proportion, the electronic frontier, issues of the pre-buy page peek....it is perhaps as much an endeavor as the original penning itself. So what is one to do? One who desires, above all else, to string words together, to weave and fabricate a magnificent mirage, one which, like the sultry siren-song, lures the reader ever onwards willingly, passionately, following the word trail to its final conclusion -although one that leads not to foul end (Greek mythological version) but one that enables the reader, like Odysseus, an eventual escape upon novel-completion; they emerge from the reverie, the mists of the literary mirage disperse, and they move on -until, vulnerable to another strain, they are again caught in a narrative - another heart-song heard on another literary voyage.

Given this persistent, almost viral, desire to write above all else, to feel the imperative physically manifest in fidgeting fingers and distracted mind, to be perpetually occupied with plot and character, with another place and another time - it is less a curse or a blessing than a primal drive, an instinct or a physical attribute assigned at birth. Just as we are endowed with hair that is red or black or yellow, with skin that is ivory, dark or sallow....so we are an eventual product of our past environment and our particular combination in the genetic reshuffle. So we write - passionately, obsessively, frantically without respite or reason. It is an imperative that can not and will not be constrained or denied - not for those of us who are truly and gloriously infected.

But there is always that hanging question - to what end? Our literary babies must be forced into shape before they are deemed acceptable by conventional publishing standards. Spit and polish in copious supply. Stand straight Private! Uniform starched and ironed to perfection if you please. Drills performed to professional exactitude. I have, I fear, always harbored a general tendency to rebellion and cannot imagine blind obedience, revamping to order, or writing to dictates or demographics. Try as I might - and the very thought of attempting such fills me with horror. It seems a form of prostitution. Not that I harbor any such abhorrence to those willingly entering such a profession, but it does seem to denote a fairly cavalier exchange of cash for simulated passion. Life is simply too brief to relinquish passion. And what constitutes ecstasy for a writer? It is the authenticity of voice. It is the unbridled joy of giving literary wing to the inner narrative, of transcribing the imaginative weave and whirl of a world that moves us, of a cast of characters that somehow illuminate and plumb the emotional depths that define us all. It is the ability to write what is in our heart, to give literary voice to the song that reverberates deep inside.

For, like the parent that gave them life, my narrative characters obdurately refuse to follow literary formula or publishing dictates to ensure demographic success - they are unconventional because my voice is a unique one. As is yours. So you must write what compels, for to be true to thyself - that is all. It is, I firmly believe, a matter of the authentic voice, and when a writer finds his or her voice, envisions their own transcendentally luminescent muse, she must be welcomed and nourished - for she, in the dark recesses of the writing-mind, is a deep and fruitful source of tales to be spun. To produce to demand, to twist and scrunch in painful conformation, is to sacrifice her on the altar of mainstream publishing expectations. Certainly if one's authentic narrative voice coincides harmoniously with mainstream literary demand then by all means follow her crooked finger and produce accordingly....but for those of us whose offspring are of a more contorted sort, of hunched physiognomy or dubious countenance, whose manuscripts are less easily placed or deemed of little literary worth due to a lack of genre trend-strength or other somesuch trivialities, recognizing and valuing the authentic voice is not an easy task: oft-undermined by our threaded self-doubt and the multitude of rejection letters.

The heart of the matter for us all is happiness. Are we not all endowed with the inalienable right in the pursuit of it? For writers I propose that the route to such literary satisfaction is a devout and true adherence to our own particular internal muse, our own authentic voice. And if, like Hugo, it demands a chapter detailing the lush undergrowth of Valjean's garden front, or a copious collection of pages to describe the agonized procession of convict carts, then woe betide those of us who ignore it! I advocate a gloriously resplendent declaration of our own particular narrative prose - not to be defined or ordered or managed by business-interest, but standing proudly as an ardent affirmation of our own authenticity.

For if a writer loses that, what is left? Will the muse still whisper in one's ear after being excised and denied to render a manuscript appropriate? (I am not referring to the much-appreciated editorial aid that every novel benefits from - polishing and refining the native tongue rather than warping it) One must write what is in one's heart with utter disregard for anything else; for then it will resound with veracity, with a strong emotive voice, with the ringing authenticity of a narrative deeply felt in the writing of it. And then happiness follows - to have crafted well - one can then rest deep in the satisfied slumber of a narrative artfully done. It is, of course, a damnably difficult rock-strewn path - one must not only find one's authentic voice, but must then trust it implicitly despite detractors (for there will be many), despite publishing obstacles (guaranteed), despite the skeptical eyebrow raise of those dearest, despite economic imperatives otherwise, despite the intermittent despair, disgust and self-plagued doubt - I say persist! Persist and publish - one way or another. And then in return for your devotion, your muse in turn will also be true.

So write your digressions, spin out a chapter or two of intricate backstory, or in convoluted description of tangled garden foliage, follow your imperative, moderate and tweak with a trusted editorial source - and then when all is said and done throw your arms up in celebratory exaltation and give your story flight.


  1. This wonderful essay raises the tiny hairs. Every writer lost in the sea of "platform building" and other salesmanship that is so often touted as necessary knowledge should read your essay.

    My new desk note:
    "Life is simply too brief to relinquish passion."

    What a great reminder to stay the course.

    Thank you for this.

    - Steve Brannon

    1. Steve thank you so much for dropping by my humble musing - I greatly appreciate your visit as well as your most kind commentary. Yes - to stay the course - that is the thing, indeed! I wish you the very best of luck with your literary endeavors Steve - thank you!

  2. Dear PJ,

    It is with great passion that I express my gratitude and wholehearted agreement with your humble musing this episode. I believe in an "artistic soul," in which there resides an inherent awareness of all things aesthetically related. Each of us may or may not develop our connection with our artistic soul, depending on our mindfulness exercises to awaken and nurture a mutual co-existence. When we do, this is what I consider maturation or self-actualization on an aesthetic level. We may have a multitude of experiences (or not), but when we develop the artistic soul, we simply magnify the ways in which we can express ourselves.

    Having said that, it is also fair to say that every moment in life has merit and is valid, for they are building blocks to each state of maturity in the constant process of becoming. Writing reflects these states of refinement as much as they reflect who we are. After all, we are a product of of our time, our culture and our environment as well.

    The "authentic voice" of which you speak is a product, I believe, of the maturation of the artistic soul that resides in each of us, and which deserves revelation for further enlightenment versus sequestration in dark, gloomy caves.

    1. Thank you dear Shari - I utterly agree and love your concept of the artistic soul...yet again you bring the warm incandescent glow of poetic eloquence to my humble musings - elevated indeed by your own highly articulate and utterly lovely insights on the subject. I love your thoughts in regard to the building blocks of moments that are in a constant state of becoming...because we are perpetually in flux and each particular experience, however small, contributes to the ongoing rush that is us. Hopefully not always a rush - although perhaps it often feels that way :)

  3. Simply put, this brought tears to my eyes. Why does no one write with passion like this anymore? Why does no one write with adult words like these anymore?

    Thank you.
    I've place this on "Learni.st" an educational website. I hope you don't mind. But I placed it by it-self on a Learning Board

    1. Dearest Elaine,
      I am so delighted that you enjoyed my musing - and indeed grateful for your pinned endorsement. Thank you!
      Warmest of regards, PJ