What lies beyond the tip of the iceberg?
All writers have been asked this question, been forced to think deeper about the implications of their prose. I was first introduced to this metaphor as a freshman in high school.
“The Titanic sank,” our English teacher explained after we’d finished giggling at his attempt at sketching an ocean scene on the whiteboard, “because all they could see was what was above the water. They had no idea how much was under that, unseen.”
Only a tiny tip of an iceberg peeks out above the ocean – there’s a lot that goes unnoticed that can leave a major impact on anything that approaches it.
I was really into writing essays then – personal essays, really, about what little life experience I’d had in the past 13 years. I was writing my first novel. I was also fascinated by metaphors, so this one intrigued me.
I have always been a chronically shy person. At 13, I asked for help only when I needed it to complete an assignment or understand something well enough to pass a test. All my teachers said I was smart, a good student, but that I didn’t speak up enough in class.
So, fascinated by this idea that a writer was somehow supposed to imply facts about a story without saying them directly, I chose that day to speak up.
I went to my teacher’s classroom at the end of that day, shaking, hoping he wouldn’t think I was stupid for bringing up something I probably should have known about by now, and I asked, “Can you explain this? I want to know more about this iceberg thing.”
But instead of rolling his eyes and acting like I was wasting his time, he sat me down and taught me showing vs. telling the only way an instructor should – by showing me examples of stories that spoke volumes in just several short pages.
To this day I truly believe it was that experience that made me decide once and for all that I wanted to be a writer.
Up until then it had been a hobby – a skill I didn’t even realize I was leveling up every time I scribbled in a notebook. After that conversation, after he told me none of his students had ever sought such a deep understanding of a concept I wouldn’t revisit in a classroom again until college, I signed up for my first creative writing class.
I haven’t quit writing since.
And to think I may have never gathered up enough courage to start taking my writing more seriously if I hadn’t spoken up and asked a question.
One of the most important aspects of writing is a relentless hunger for answers to questions both big and small. I’m not talking about ‘how do I get a book published’ or ‘how do I get writing feedback’ questions. I’m talking about deep questions – seeking to understand things you are interested in knowing about, even if no one else seems to care.
This is a platform where I seek to ask deeper questions. I’m part of enough writing communities online to know that we spend a lot of time asking questions and waiting for other people to answer them for us. I’m really tired of that. Half the questions I see about writing can be answered by sitting down and actually trying things out for yourself, figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
Call it laziness, call it fear of the unknown – it’s a willingness only to stay in shallow waters, and I just can’t be part of that.
I’m not interested in shallow questions. There’s nothing wrong with them, I suppose, but the reason I do this blogging thing is because there is a lot about this world that I do not understand – and writing is my motivation for paying more attention, for asking ‘why,’ for understanding things before I assume something about a person or event.
Asking questions is where my writing journey began, and it is why my writing continues. I know that a blog is not always the best place to discuss deep questions, especially in this ‘writing about writing’ space where it becomes more and more apparent that none of us have any clue what our audiences actually want us to write about, and vise versa.
But I can’t not ask questions. I’m not saying you have to have all the answers. But this is a journey as much for me as it is for you. I am growing as a writer as much as you hopefully are. There is a lot going on in my life that you don’t see, as there are things happening in your life that lay beneath the surface. Writing may not be your lifeboat as it is mine, but if it weren’t somewhat important to you, you wouldn’t still be reading this right now.
All I can do is continue to share my advice and theories and frustrations with other writers who may or may not share them, whether they are read or not, because that is how I navigate the harsh waves of this thing we call trying to make our voices heard.
I write because I like to understand things, and though it is impossible to know and understand everything, at least I can say, I tried. I tried to make sense of all this. I spoke my mind. I did not hold back. I asked the questions no one else did. I found mentors who helped me learn and I discovered answers and maybe I helped others along the way, maybe I didn’t, but I loved every minute of it, and that is all that matters.
Ask deep questions. Think deeper about the world. Explore. Write about everything you observe and recall along the way. Don’t sit around and wait for someone else to give you all the answers. Keep your eyes open, let the world show you what you need to know. Use your words to say things that matter, no matter what.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.