Why We Read…and Write
III of III
Writing about the photographer’s dilemma, John Szarkowski stated:
“…what shall he include, what shall he reject. The line of decision between in and out is the picture’s frame…The photographer’s edge defines content. It isolates juxtapositions. The photographer edits the meanings and patterns of the world through an imaginary frame.”
The Photographic Eye
Szarkowski may have been thinking about photography, but his words also apply to our process and choices as writers. Who among us hasn’t tried to include everything in a manuscript only to end up with a muddled mess?
As writers our “imaginary frame” takes many forms. Genre. Length. Point of view. Where we begin and end the narrative. First or third person. Like the photographer, we are wise to explore all the options our frame can offer before pressing click or print.
I know writers who thought they were working on a picture book, but it was better when reframed as a novel. I’ve had a poem that ended up better expressed and framed as a picture book story. And vice versa. We have nothing to lose and much to gain by telling ourselves to “Look again” at our manuscript. Explore alternative frames or edges. Literally try different points of view.
Central themes or common threads can often be found throughout an author’s work. With the best authors this does not mean repetition, but rather a collection of different perspectives, different frames just like the many ways John Meyerowitz explored the St. Louis arch.
It is also how we read. No single story or book can represent the only truth because there is no single truth. Both reading and writing let us continue to look through a wider and wider range of frames. The result—a life that is forever growing wider and deeper.
“A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them…One implication is the importance of just plain receptivity.” William Stafford
Books That Encourage One to “Look Again”
*THE ARCH by Joel Meyerowitz. Little, Brown & Co., 1988.
FAMILY SCRAPBOOK by M.B. Goffstein. Farrar, 1978.
GALEN’S CAMERA by Jill Kalz. Illus. by Ji Sun Lee. Picture Window Books, 2006.
*THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S EYE by John Szarkowski. The Museum of Modern Art, 2007 (1966).
TAKE ANOTHER LOOK by Tana Hoban. Greenwillow, 1981.
THE TURN-AROUND, UPSIDE-DOWN ALPHABET BOOK by Lisa Campbell Ernst. Simon & Schuster, 2004.
*WRITING THE AUSTRALIAN CRAWL: VIEWS ON THE WRITER’S VOCATION by William Stafford. University of Michigan Press, 1978.
*Published for adults