A Wrinkle in Writing

I’ve been thinking lately about creativity. About the complicated relationship between humility, confidence, and arrogance. About the precarious balance between the conviction that we might actually know what we’re doing and the gnawing fear that we don’t – a balance which is required to produce anything worthwhile. Or at least that’s how it seems to me.

I’ve been thinking about imposter syndrome.

And I’ve been ironing. Usually a school uniform, in the morning, at the last possible moment.

I hate ironing. Epitome of pointless pursuits. Can’t we simply agree that the natural state of some fabrics is wrinkled and leave it at that? Sadly, my daughter’s school handbook stipulates that uniforms should be ironed and as much as I’d like to storm the barricades of convention, it seems unfair to impale her on my ideological pitchfork.

So I iron. And I was thinking the other morning, as I did this, about how I really have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t know how to iron. There was no passing down of ironing lore from my mother to me. I have no clue. All I’m doing is dabbing hopefully here and there, trying to get out enough wrinkles, to smooth things over sufficiently that no one will notice.

And this, I thought, is also like writing, at least for we imposters. The work is always falling apart. I have no idea how to plot. My characters aren’t real, their dialogue not true. I don’t know how to do this thing called writing, can’t possibly put together a whole book, not a real one. All I’m doing is trying to string together enough acceptable sentences, enough lines that seem on the surface to be something like writing, that it will form a shiny enough patina to bamboozle the unsuspecting reader.

Ironing. Writing. I like these little ideas, these connections. And if I can’t not be ironing, I at least like thinking about writing while I’m doing it.

But as I smoothed out another wrinkle, turning the dress this way and that, wondering if I’d done enough yet to keep the gatekeepers happy, something occurred to me that I liked even more. And it was this: that if you smooth out enough wrinkles, in the end that’s what ironing is. It’s not that no one will notice you haven’t really ironed. It’s that in the process of what you tell yourself is a desperate subterfuge you will actually have succeeded in doing the thing itself.

Maybe the problem is not that you lack skill, but that you don’t recognise that skill for what it is. Maybe it doesn’t matter how you feel in the doing of it; maybe all that matters is the thing you hold up to the light at the end of it all.

And maybe it’s the same with writing. If, in the end, I string together enough sentences, enough paragraphs, enough pages. If, in the end, I put together a whole book that satisfies the reader, that’s not bamboozling, is it? That’s not a trick.

It’s writing.

5 thoughts on “A Wrinkle in Writing

  1. Anne M Leone

    Course, the trick is actually having a whole complete book by the end of it! =)

    Great metaphor; it so accurately describes how I feel about writing, especially on the bad days!

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  2. anna

    Such an interesting post and I relate to so much of what you've written. I sometimes think that, as with most other things in life, its important to try not to let feelings dictate too much to us about the quality or value of our writing. I find for myself that the same piece can look interesting and insightful, or tedious and lifeless, depending on my mood. I'm so glad to have discovered your blog 🙂

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  3. Meg McKinlay

    Anne, yes, true. I guess Anne Lamott does it bird by bird and I do it wrinkle by wrinkle.

    Anna, how lovely to see you here. I so agree re feelings and their tricksy ways. I am constantly reminding myself not to let them drive the bus, to paraphrase the pigeon.
    (PS I have Violet Mackerel in my TBR pile, rapidly approaching the top. Congrats on your shortlisting!).

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  4. Mary Witzl

    I'm horrible at ironing even though I had excellent ironing tuition from my mother. The yokes always mess me up, and vice versa.

    Right now I'm revising a story I thought was perfect only last year. Things I write unwrite themselves just as things I've ironed suddenly turn out to have all sorts of wrinkles I never spotted when I proudly slipped them over the hanger.

    Not that I've really ironed anything worth mentioning in the past four years…

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  5. Meg McKinlay

    Mary, I like your 'unwriting' analogy, and feel exactly the same. I'm sure things acquire wrinkles in the passage from ironing board to hanger. Now if I only knew what a yoke was, I could get on with messing those up too.

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