By Michael Geisser
For the past five years or so, whenever someone asked me what I did for work, I have answered, “I’m a writer.” Before exhaling the final syllable of that simple sentence, a wave of self-doubt would wash over me. Then I would hear the standard comeback: “What have you written?” or “Have you published anything?” My answer was often a sheepish, “I’ve had some small pieces published, but I’m still working on my craft.” That usually moved the conversation to another topic, but not for me.
Recently, I watched the movie, Private Fears in Public Places. During the film, I found myself analyzing it—just as I do with the writing when I am reading a book—and thinking about how I might film it differently. For instance, the transitions between scenes in the movie are done through falling snow. I considered whether this technique added or detracted from the story, whether the falling snow masked or elucidated the connection between the two scenes it separated, and what other cinematic segues might work just as well, or better. Also, in much of the dialogue in the film, the characters leave something unsaid, unfinished. I wondered whether these gaps worked to create tension or just clouded the story, and if I would change the timing or place of those omissions. And, at the end, I saw how the story is neatly wrapped up, without dialogue—just images of where the characters had come to in their lives, like the epilogue in a novel. I thought, “Could it have been done differently, leaving the viewer with a different message or deeper emotional impact?
While watching the credits after the end of the movie, it dawned on me that only a person who was a writer could do what I had done during the viewing of that film.
Since watching that movie, I see that I look at the world as made up of stories, and that I search for and record stories that make sense of the world, whether that world is around me or within me. Once excited about a story, I begin to construct it in my mind, wrestling with voice, tense, perspective, structure. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than when I have made enough decisions about a story to allow me to begin typing. That’s what being a writer is to me. And that’s what I am. A writer.
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