Now that I’ve confessed to initiating my submissions, I think it’s rather timely that I caught a film on TV last night that delivered a little perspective.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Seen it or read it? I had read it about three or four years ago, and I’m not saying I think it’s a masterpiece or that the author is entirely likable, but the fact he wrote what he wanted to write and surmounted a massive obstacle to do so is commendable enough for me (not to mention makes me wonder what the hell I have to whinge about…).
The book is less than 150 pages, but if you’ve read it, you understand that there was nothing “short” about the process. If you aren’t familiar with the premise of the book, it chronicles the memories of a man (Jean-Dominique Bauby, former editor of French Elle magazine) diagnosed with “locked-in syndrome,” thus paralyzed from head to toe, other than the ability to blink one eye. The prison of his own body, then, became his enclosing “diving bell,” and after initially suffering an understandably defeatist attitude, he came to realize that his greatest mobility and freedom—his “butterfly”—was his mind and the imagination and memories it held. He learned that in this way he could escape to anywhere in the world, dine on the most sumptuous feasts, and do whatever else met his fancy. And thanks to the persistence of a hospital therapist, he learned he could write a book.
Unable to speak, unable to move, this man wrote a book. And I speak of him in the past tense because he passed away within days of this book’s publication in 1997. But it wasn’t about the publication; it was the process itself that helped preserve his will to live.
And, clearly, the way it came about is remarkable. In my second-to-last post, I talked about editing on a chapter-by-chapter, to paragraph-by-paragraph, to sentence-by-sentence, to word-by-word level; well, how about writing on a letter-by-letter one? As the woman transcribing his memoir would read through a special alphabet (arranged in order of the most frequently used letters), he would blink when she said the letter he wanted. Now imagine approaching writing this way; this is a time-consuming, surely exhausting effort, so you’re certainly not going to waste any words getting to your point. Yet it’s the presence of description that I remember astonishing me when I read the book. He “wrote” vividly, expressively, demonstrating that some detail is worth working for; it’s necessary to conveying the true idea.
So as I’ve written before, as we hack into our own pieces and try to reduce word count, it’s important not to strip those ideas of their joy. Every word needs to matter, however, so we must be discerning in our choices. And we must remember what we’re doing it for. Is it in the hope of being published so everyone knows our name and kidding ourselves that it’ll make us rich? Or is it the sheer achievement when the odds may have been against us? The joy of the act itself and of sharing it with others? Think of the celebration it is to pen the triumph of one’s mind, capturing in words the life we’re infused with through imagination and memory. It is tremendously difficult work, yes, and yet doesn’t inspiration sometimes flutter through us in a blink…peppering our pages with butterfly kisses from the lashes of our mind’s eye…
December 3rd, 2010 at 13:35
Ooooh, nice one! I literally have the butterfly book smack on my nightstand, so I am going to read it as soon as I get back to reading in general. It is amazing to think about what this guy had to go through.
Anyway, after cutting another 45 pages out of my first manuscript to get ready for epublication, I could not agree more with you. I am left with 118,000 words (coming down from 160,000 in the beginning), that used to be and are my life of a couple of years. It was fun, and I am determined to not loose it again as I did over the last months. After all, I am doing it for the joy of being with my characters. Thanks for reminding me again. 🙂
December 6th, 2010 at 19:21
Oh my gosh, talk about same wavelengths! I hope you enjoy it; it’s obviously a quick-read, and, like I said, not necessarily in itself the most profound, but I remember really enjoying it and feeling inspired simply as a human.
And how exciting that you’re polishing up your first novel for epublication!! *clap*clap*clap*
December 3rd, 2010 at 15:37
This was one of the most interesting posts I’ve read. Definitely want to get the book. And by the way, wishing you all the best in regards to sending your “baby” out!
December 6th, 2010 at 19:23
Aw, thank you! I’ll take any well wishes I can get :). And as for Diving Bell, I hope you enjoy it, yet either way it’ll inspire by virtue of how it came about in the first place.
December 3rd, 2010 at 15:56
The books sounds amazing. I’ve never heard of it. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. Love the last line of your post. Very poetically said…
December 6th, 2010 at 19:29
Why, thank you. Was in quite the flowery mood :). I’d actually like to re-read the book now that it’s back in my thoughts, though it’s buried somewhere in storage across the ocean, unfortunately. It’s at the very least an interesting experience to read what happened to enter this man’s mind…I wonder if he “wrote” and revised sentences in his head before he would dictate…I’d think he’d have to. In any case, it doesn’t provide any answers to life in general, but really makes you reflect on your own and appreciate your ability to interact with it in ways this man couldn’t anymore.
December 4th, 2010 at 00:21
I second the love for your prose-poetry at the end there; very nice. Do I write for fame or fortune? Maybe someday. For now, I just like to share my stuff with friends and strangers, and I’m having a blast doing so after years of being holed-up in my room filling pages with words.
December 6th, 2010 at 19:32
And you’re doing a very successful job of sharing it with others, Milo! It’s wonderful when writing can become a less solitary, isolated experience in that way. And sure, I wouldn’t turn down the fame and fortune either if it knocked on my door… ;).