Reading Ann Patchett’s delightful collection of essays, “This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage,” I was reminded of what I call “diving deeper” into moments in my writing. When Ann creates a metaphor or offers a musing, instead of quickly moving on to the next moment, she often lingers, harvesting her most-recent image or idea. In her essay about the death of her beloved dog, she writes about her gut-wrenching grief at losing Rosie. But instead of simply telling us in one strong sentence, Patchett explores her grief for the remainder of a longish paragraph. What beautiful writing, I thought, when I was reading the essay. I wish I could come even close to that in my own work.
Thinking about Patchett’s paragraph a bit longer, I understood that part of my pleasure had come from her writing moving counter to my expectation. Reading her grief-infused sentence, I expected the narrator to continue on to the next moment in her story. That’s what I would do, I thought. I’d be so pleased to have captured my emotions so convincingly, I’d prance off to the next challenge.
Not Patchett. She uses that sentence as a diving board, and executes a beautiful swan dive into the water, where she gathers additional details and nuances. By the time she has finished, the reader feels as if she had lived Patchett’s grief along with her.
That’s a good writer for you. She allows herself to take full advantage of what she comes upon as she writes, and in the process she invites you, the reader, along for the appreciation. Not only that, but once you have spent this extended time with Patchett’s thoughts, beginning at the surface and penetrating into the water’s depths, you feel as if you too have somehow participated in the writing.
Gee, I thought, last night, I need to remember to do that too. I need to remember to linger at certain moments in the essays I’m now writing. Not worry so much about the next thing I want to say, but allow myself to appreciate and explore what I have just created. Allow myself to take the deepest dive possible.
The next morning, I returned to my latest piece and experimented with several moments in the text where I thought I could gain more traction. The first sentence I picked read: So many weights sucking energy from my living fully, preventing me from embracing whatever is happening in the moment!
That’s pretty nice, I thought. But let me try to push the moment deeper: It’s as if a gigantic bumble bee begins buzzing in by ear the minute I bend to admire the newest apricot bloom on my rosebush. Or a huge black fly strafes my head, just as I walk into my living room, where golden sunlight pours through the bay windows.
Pleased with what I had written, I decided to dive deeper into another sentence from my most recent essay: It doesn’t seem to matter if the mediation felt rich and deep the previous day.Even if I had caught an important insight about myself, or a revelation about how I might reply to a question my daughter-in-law had posed, for the initial moments of meditating I remain fully anchored in my not-so-serene ordinary life.
Wow, I realized, this diving deeper isn’t so difficult after all. And it’s fun. Even if what I come up with isn’t as gorgeous as Ann Patchett’s prose, it takes me to new places. And arriving at unexpected places is one of the biggest pleasures of sitting down to write.