Writer’s Desk: Create What You Cannot See

Novelist and new Nobel Prize winner for literature Annie Ernaux wrote a few years back about the influence of surrealists (Andre Breton, George Perec) on her work in her “formative years.” Part of her fascination seemed to be due to their power to make the ineffable real and graspable.

In her piece, “The Art of Writing,” Ernaux also delves into Virginia Woolf (another influence in her youth) and her views of writing, which also seemed focused on bringing something into view that was previously unseen. Here Ernaux quotes Woolf writing to Vita Sackville-West:

I believe that the main thing in beginning a novel is to feel, not that you can write it, but that it exists on the far side of a gulf, which words can’t cross; that one can draw it to oneself: it’s to be pulled through only in a breathless sigh…

What Woolf proposes is in some ways a paradox. “Words can’t cross”? But perhaps she is saying that writing can be less about the words themselves than the imagination that powers them. Visualize your book, feel it, breathe it, live it. Pull it to yourself and climb inside.

Then start writing.

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