The Leaky Writer

The Plumber

I’m not thinking about straight-ahead journalism here. Not news reporting, scientific papers, pure history or anything of that ilk. I’m thinking about the creative writer, the fiction author, the storyteller or the humorist. I’m absolutely talking about the poet and that special kind of writer whose genre cannot be defined.

I’m thinking about the story behind the story. It’s all about the leaky writer.

It’s cliche to even mention that all writers are ultimately writing about themselves. Sure, the thought is worn down, overused, just accepted as part of the writing game. But it’s also true and it’s an enormous slice of the reading experience, if you pay attention.

We read the story, the novel, the screenplay, whatever. We like it. The characters are compelling, the story line moves us in some way that we appreciate. But underneath it all, hidden behind every scene and each character who slides through the pages, lurks the life of the writer. It’s the leaky writer syndrome and it’s universal.

Sometimes we aren’t even aware of the leaky writer. His or her personal story goes unnoticed, camouflaged by the plot and the players. That other layer sleeps deeply and may never rise to the surface. Even in these cases, it’s there. It’s always lying in wait for the reader, for just that right and careful reader.

Creative writers are leaky writers. It’s not an intentional action, not some subtle plan designed to layer two or more stories into a single piece of work. In fact, the leaky writer doesn’t usually know he or she is leaky, at first. That subtle story comes out later, maybe in the editing process, maybe in a later draft. Sometimes the back story lies dormant for years or decades and only surfaces later in life.

Many excellent writers never recognize their own leaky writing. It’s an unconscious process, a free-form exercise in art and storytelling that just happens in the background. They write a single story but they are telling two, or even more. It’s their own back story that serves as the foundation for all they have created. It’s the very soul of their art.

Drip emitter

Do you recognize these leaks when you read? Sometimes they are so subtle, so diffuse, that they almost disappear. Still, they are lurking back there, just waiting to surprise you when you least expect it. These are the hidden treasures, the path that leads you back into the writer’s heart and mind.

When you write, do you see your own leaks? Are you even aware of them?

I’m not. Mine all happen in the dark and I usually don’t recognize them until much later, if at all. Sometimes, a close friend or lover can ferret them out, point directly at them, and slap you across the head with an outcome. Sometimes they just stay dormant, maybe forever. Even when they seem to disappear, they are critical to the writing process. It’s the heart of the art.

Does this happen to you? I’ll bet it does, all the time. If you’re a creative writer, you’re a leaky writer. In fact, if you’re an artist of any kind, you’re just filled with leaks, always working at least two story lines at the same time, usually unaware of what’s going on behind the scenes. Your art is at least half an unconscious process, a wonderful synergy that makes creation meaningful and fun.

Go back and look at something you wrote a while ago, maybe years ago. Read it for the hidden story line, looking for the leaks. Sniff out those little tells, that subtle tapestry behind the story you created inside your piece of art. Over the years, you’ll find your personal story in those leaks. You’ll discover a little more about who you are as a person and an artist.

So, the next time you read for pure pleasure, keep an eye out for those leaks. They are just waiting to be discovered. In them you’ll find the soul of the writer and his or her story.

Richard Nixon may have needed plumbers but you don’t. Keep loving those leaks.

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9 thoughts on “The Leaky Writer

  1. Yes, yes and yes! I am a leaky writer and proud of it (maybe you should sell bumper stickers, eh?). I especially loved this, “Still, they are lurking back there, just waiting to surprise you when you least expect it. These are the hidden treasures, the path that leads you back into the writer’s heart and mind.” Nice post. Really made my morning.

  2. Once upon a time writers were told to write about what they know … and many writers consciously use incidents from their own lives (DH Lawrence to name only one). Surely all good writers are leaky, Michael?

    And perhaps those that are not are the ones who write the most unmemorable books, the books that are instantly forgettable for not having this hidden back story to give their work an unconscious depth.

    • I’d have to think about that one. I’ve met some really, really up-tight/closed-down folks over the years. If they are leaky, it must be a slow one. On the other hand, my artist friends all leak, some more profusely than others. I think it’s part of the art process. As to running around in an unconscious state, I couldn’t agree more. Thanks, as always.

  3. A few years ago I wrote a piece with characters based on my husband, myself, and a guy I had a crush on. My story was analyzed by a creative writing class I was in. All my readers wondered why my husband played such a minor role in the story. It wasn’t explicit, but the REAL story was in that very absence of my husband. I had detached myself from him emotionally and left him soon after that. But it was my classmates’ reaction to the story that made me so aware of how damaged my marriage had become.

  4. Aha! It is the leaky writer that lets in all the biographical criticism. Or at least makes it a whole lot easier. For instance: we look at old dead dudes’/dudettes’ stuff, read about what happened in their lives, see when the stuff we are reading was written, and instantly start correlating the writing to the life. Makes writing those term papers easier I guess. It certainly worked for me. Until some french guys happen along and try to separate the writer from the written, in some sort of ‘deconstruction’. And then term papers get filled with buzzwords like heuristic. Still don’t know what that means. This ran long. Must have essays on my mind…

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