Deb: A Zillion Little Decisions

I love to talk about writing as art. It sounds so dreamy
and beautiful, so personal and yet vaguely important. Writing is art. But at
its core, writing is also a zillion little decisions. This sounds a lot less
cool and a lot less romantic until you consider that actually all art involves
a zillion little decisions.
Decisions evoke possibilities: shimmering, elusive,
electric. The old adage about the devil being in the details is meant to remind
us, I suppose, that every decision matters. Of course it does. But let’s
approach it from the affirmative. If we get the wrong word or the wrong phrase
in the wrong place, our artfully constructed piece won’t come crashing down.
Rather, the details we choose have the potential to make our work sing.
You may have the most creative vision, the most complex
characters, the most intriguing narrative structure. But it’s the details that
bring them to life. Because they matter so much, I’m teaching a 49 Writers workshop
beginning two weeks from tomorrow called “Description and Detail: The Glint and the Squint.”
The glint? That’s from Chekhov: Don’t tell me the moon is
shining; show me the glint on broken glass.
The squint? Lewis Carroll, worded as you’d expect from the guy who
shoved Alice down the rabbit hole: When you are describing a shape or sound
or tint, don’t state the manner plainly, but put it in a hint, and learn to
look at all things with a sort of mental squint.
Your art is a
wonder, a thing of beauty, a marvel of creation. It’s also a relationship with
your readers. Readers want showing, but sometimes they also want telling. They want
scene, but then they want summary. They want explicit prose, and they want
purposeful ambiguity. They want the glint and the squint.
In the workshop, we’ll
study excerpts from exemplary writers of both fiction and nonfiction. We’ll examine
which details they put in and which they leave out. We’ll look at how they
arrange the details, and we’ll contemplate their language and syntax choices. We’ll consider how details contribute to character, tension, and emotion. Through
writing exercises, we’ll explore the power of details and description in our
own writing, and we’ll revise with faith in the writer’s alchemy: that from
zillions of little decisions, we’ll make art.
Deb is a published author of several books. Her current
projects include the novel Cold Spell and narrative nonfiction titled Wealth Woman: Kate Carmack and the Last
Great Race for Gold
. Register for her workshop at

1 thought on “Deb: A Zillion Little Decisions”

  1. This is an awesome line: "This sounds a lot less cool and a lot less romantic until you consider that actually all art involves a zillion little decisions." It's good to be honest about the fact that even our "art" is a process, not magic, even though it sometimes seems magical.

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