Removing the fourth wall (or talking directly about the writing)

In the theatre, they talk about the fourth wall – the side of the ‘box’ where the audience sits. To remove the fourth wall is to acknowledge the audience, to talk to them directly, as well as to perform the story.

That’s where I’m at right now. I wasn’t particularly planing to. But it’s the post that’s been growing in my head over the last few days.

When we read, for the most part, we find out about the subject matter, rather than the writers – unless it’s autobiographical.

Even then, it’s still about the story – less about the mechanics of writing, editing, deciding what goes in and what doesn’t.

Blogging changes that. Firstly, so many blogs are autobiographical, one way or another. Some are deliberately so: a family memoir, a form of regular journal.

But even the blogs that are about a subject are often linked to the person’s own story. They write because of what has changed in their life, what has made a difference, what they’ve learned.

Sometimes, that change is hard-won – or not chosen. But the response: that’s the choice, where the hard learning and (sometimes) tears go on. Those fuel the writing.

They make it honest. They make it relevant. And from time to time, the writer might also remind you of where they’ve come from, where the story started, so that you can appreciate the journey too.

Talking directly about the writing is something different. It starts with listening to what other writers have to say about their process. Why they write what they do. How they go about writing, particularly if they’ve committed to doing it regularly.

Writing on a blog takes you a step further. It gives you the choice to talk to the readers about those decisions. If you want to.

I don’t know that I want to, in some ways. It feels like seeing how the conjurer does the trick; like showing all your working in maths to say how you got to that point.

We are used to showing the final product – ta dah! We tend not to want to show the process; the mistakes; the second-guessing that happens before the words take form.

But actually, doing so is to be honest. If great writers needed structure, needed edits, needed to abandon certain story arcs or leave others dormant, why shouldn’t I expect something of that too?

We are still hooked on the notion of inspiration coming down out of the clouds – words pouring straight onto the page. It would be lovely. And sometimes, it even feels a bit like that, rushing to keep up with the ideas as they emerge. (On the good days.)

But part of what makes them great is craft. Is experience, borne of many hours of reading, and writing.

It’s knowing which idea to go with, and which to leave. It’s knowing when something is really current, really what you want to say – or when it’s not.

Hanging onto the fact that I am a writing-type person, at least, I want to acknowledge the struggle to write – as well as the desire to write – and the quest to find the right form. The right subjects.

I’ll put the wall back in soon enough. (It can feel a bit draughty without it.)

But perhaps just as it leaves me space to acknowledge what is happening in the writing, there might also be space for some characters to enter the box. Some sense of story, and, perhaps, direction.

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