A Genuine Approximation

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“You write because you have an idea in your mind that feels so genuine, so important, so true. And yet, by the time this idea passes through the different filters of your mind, and into your hand, and onto the page or computer screen—it becomes distorted, and it’s been diminished. The writing you end up with is an approximation, if you’re lucky, of whatever it was you really wanted to say.”

These are the wise words of Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and other books, who was interviewed in The Atlantic . When I read this quote, something pinged inside me. He was right, of course; as a writer, there have been countless times I’ve had a “brilliant” idea, but by the time I sit down to write it, whether it’s minutes or hours or days later, it often comes out flat. But that wasn’t what was pinging at me. It was something else, something I couldn’t quite name.

Later, I began to reflect on the characters in my upcoming debut novel, The Damnable Legacy of A Minister’s Wife, specifically thinking about the protagonist Lynn Van Swol. It was like that game you play as a kid, a hide-and-seek game where you get “warmer” as you draw closer to the hidden object. It also felt like a ghost pounding on the attic floor right over my head. Something was trying to make itself clear to me.

Who is Lynn Van Swol?  She’s an elite mountain climber who has pretty much forsaken all relationships in her life to pursue her passion. But now that she’s approaching fifty, and facing the real possibility that she may never accomplish the one goal she’d set out for herself nearly thirty years earlier, she starts to question the wisdom of some of the choices she’s made. The most difficult choice, and the one that haunts her most severely, was the one to give her daughter up for adoption, also nearly thirty years ago.

As expected, Lynn goes through some pretty deep soul-searching during the course of the novel. I’m not going to give anything away here, but what I will say is that her life didn’t turn out the way she thought it would. Mr. Hosseini referred to that gap between intent and actual outcome as “a sobering reminder of your limitations,” and that’s when I realized what was so profound about what he’d said.

It’s not only writing which represents an approximation of our intent. It’s living. Let me tweak Mr. Hosseini’s words a little bit, like this: You live because you have an idea in your mind that feels so genuine, so important, so true. And yet, by the time this idea of living passes through the different filters of your mind, and into your body, and into each chapter of your life–it becomes distorted, and it’s been diminished. The life you end up living is an approximation, if you’re lucky, of whatever it was you really wanted to do.

I think Lynn would agree the difference between her goals and her actual life was sobering, and it was also reflective of her flaws and vulnerabilities. As for me, there are certainly plenty of gaps between how I thought my life would play out and what’s really happened. I’m living an approximation of what I’d planned to do, and that’s especially evident in my writing life.

The Damnable Legacy of A Minister’s Wife will be coming out this year. It’s not being published the way I’d initially envisioned, so, yes, you could say there’s been a bit of distortion along the way, to use Mr. Hosseini’s word. But I would disagree with him about the word “diminished.” I feel incredibly fortunate, and grateful, that I’ve able to accomplish this goal. It is just as genuine, important, and true as what I’d planned initially–even if it’s happening differently than first imagined.

 

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