I’ve mentioned before how I usually know the ending of a story before I know anything else about it. I end up writing my way to the very last line, which is always there during the process.

I’ve also mentioned before what my theory is on stories. That they are all around me, and really, really want to be told and don’t care how they’re told. So if I outline, or talk about a story before I’ve finished writing it, then it’s been told. The story is happy and it goes away and I’ll never finish it. Which is why I’m careful not to talk a lot about a work in progress.

So this week, while visiting with my friend Jenni, we got to talking about the writing process and I realized that my two comments above are connected in a way. If I don’t know the ending, there’s no tension. If I talk about a story, basically tell it instead of writing it, there’s no tension. And without that tension, I won’t write.

That got me wondering if ‘tension’ is the right word. Could it be anticipation? Is it the mystery of the unknown? Not knowing the story, discovering it as I write it?

Well, what’s the definition of ‘tension’? Skipping over to an online dictionary I find the expected definitions of stretching and tightening. But then I also find this: ‘a balance maintained in an artistic work between opposing forces or elements’ and ‘an inner striving, unrest, or imbalance…’.

For all you artistic types out there (not just writers), isn’t that what it feels like before the project is finished? A simmering sense of anticipation, inner striving toward something unknown, and a lack of balance? These things, I think, are what drives someone to create. Would I take the time out of my busy life to write 100,000 words if I wasn’t striving toward fulfilling the anticipation, toward finding that balance? Think of the huge, heavy mental sigh you give when your creativity is captured on paper or canvas or even in your job.  I know I usually am overwhelmingly relieved that I made it to that very last line before the story escaped.

So I guess ‘tension’ is a good word. However, I read a blog post a week or so ago about how, when you’re struggling to find just the perfect word in your story, and nothing seems to work, to use the definition instead. I agree with that because the phrase ‘an inner striving or unrest’ explains the writing process, for me at least, much better than ‘tension’.

How does it feel for you, before you pick up the pen, the paint brush, the crochet hook, the garden trowel, the hammer?


3 thoughts on “Tension?

  1. For me anticipation is a better word. I begin with a vague idea about what I want to create and then begin. Often the finished item is not at all what i envisioned. usually better, sometimes not. Love Jani


  2. ‘An inner striving or unrest’ explains the writing process for me, too. I’m either striving to say something in a newish or visceral way, or I’m trying to walk a reader through my characters’ unrest in a way that illuminates, and I hope entertains a little or a lot along the way. I don’t always know my ending before I’ve begun, though. That may be why it’s so hard for me to finish things a lot of the time.


    • It’s weird but I usually know the exact last line. I may not know who says it or why, but I can see it. It just takes a long winding road to get to that line! I like your description of illuminating unrest. That’s so perfect because that’s what we want to do for a reader, illuminate, not shine a spotlight. I think that I, as a reader, want to find my way. Illumination, to me, is like candlelight. I don’t want the author to turn the high beams on and say, ‘go this way’. And you do a wonderful job with that illumination by the way.


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