Susan Griffin on Earning an Ending and How Writing is Akin to Carpentry
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
In this episode, Mitzi talks to Susan Griffin about her new craft book, Out of Silence, Sound. Out of Nothing, Something.
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From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: You said you know the ending sometimes more than you know the beginnings. Can you share more about that?
Susan Griffin: Well, the fact that you have your ending doesn’t mean that your work is finished, it means that you have to earn that ending, you have to fulfill what it seems to have concluded, which is also a promise, the promise of what’s going to be in the book that allows you to end in this way.
And that’s on every level, on the aesthetic level, the music of it, it has to make sense that you end with that music, you can’t glob on a different kind of music at the end of a symphony, you just can’t do that, it has to come from the themes that come from the music, the music that precedes the ending, and a symphony. And it’s the same in a book. And it’s also true in stories and the tone and so all of that you are responsible to. So, you have an ending, that’s great, but you have a great deal of responsibility handed to you at the same time.
Mitzi Rapkin: You talk in there about sticking the landing. So, everything you’re just talking about with the music and the sound and finding that right place. How do you know, personally? And how do you tell young writers or even more experienced writers if they stuck the landing or not?
Susan Griffin: You feel it. It’s a feeling. And it’s a feeling for which the metaphor of this kid landing on two feet after doing spectacular somersaults and everything in the air is what you’re looking for. I have a good friend that’s a writer, Elizabeth Rosner, who’s a wonderful writer, and she teaches too, and we came up with the same metaphor. I’ve been using that for at least 20 years, and so has she, and we haven’t known each other for 20 years. So, we both came up with the same metaphor. It’s very apt. It’s a very serviceable metaphor and you feel it. And I can’t describe it in any other way.
You know writing is more like carpentry than one would think. You may ask, how do you sand a table? The carpenter can say, well, you move your hand up and down with it, or now they use electric sanders, and you want to use a level and all that. But there’s no replacement for that for a master craftsperson who has the feel of the wood and the feel of how the surface radiates back to you when you’ve got the surface leveled and smooth. There’s no replacement for that. That’s one of the reasons why if somebody wants to be a writer, the best way to become a writer is to write because you need that experience. You need to have the feel of things.
Susan Griffin is an award-winning poet, writer, essayist and playwright who has written nineteen books, including A Chorus of Stones, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Named by Utne Reader as one of the top hundred visionaries of the new millennium, she is the recipient of an Emmy for her play Voices, an NEA grant and a MacArthur Grant for Peace and International Cooperation. Her craft book is Out of Silence, Sound. Out of Nothing, Something.