“The Jane Goodall Effect”

In idly searching on reddit again, I came across this post in r/writing and liked it enough to want to share it. Besides, it seems topical, since I just posted my review of Danielewski’s House of Leaves the other day. Here is a piece of an interview in which Mark Z. Danielewski explains to us “The Jane Goodall Effect”:

MZD: Writing takes consistent patience. You have to go at it day per day, and for an extended period of time. I write six days a week, pretty much ten hours a day, more or less. Write every day. But the Jane Goodall Method is this – you have to climb that tree and sit there. You might not get anything for a day or even a week, but eventually, on the periphery, you’ll see the bushes and trees begin to shake. Then they’ll show themselves, these stories, characters, and plot lines, they’ll accept your presence, they’ll come up to you, and before long you’ll be picking lice out of each other’s hair.
Interviewer: They’ll accept you into the fold.
MZD: Exactly, but you have to show up every day. You can’t show up for a few days, get discouraged and pack up, or else when you want to pick up where you left off, you’ll have to start all over again. Conversely, once you’ve gained the trust of these stories, and they’re accepting you and letting you in, you can’t just up and disappear. If you do that, and then just come back like nothing ever happened, they’ll start flinging feces at you.
Interviewer: I really like that, the analogy, not the feces.
MZD: It’s true though. The start is slow, but once you get going, there’s no stopping, and if you do prematurely, i.e you don’t sit down and write every day, your mind will wonder, you’ll lose focus, and those stories will reject you, retreat to those trees and bushes, never to be seen again. So you have to be like Jane Goodall and camp out where the stories are, and that is at the keyboard, or the pen or paper, typewriter, whatever.

I love this. Especially because I’ve been “camping out” as much as I can and chugging away at things despite the fact that, sometimes, it really feels like I’m not making any progress. But I am. And some of it is even good. Heck, I submitted a story earlier last week. I haven’t had anything to submit in about a year, but, in the process of churning and chugging and camping out, there was a story, ready to go, after a few heavy edits. Granted, it will be a while before I hear how that story fares (and I honestly don’t have high expectations), but it’s still something and that story might find its way elsewhere, or more stories will emerge.

Granted, I’m a little bit lucky. Some of the happiest times of the day for me is when I’m able to sit there and cultivate my relationship with the stories I write. That’s why writing is the only thing I can ever see myself doing and being truly content. Just as Jane Goodall probably felt the same waiting in those trees.

What do you think? Do you find Danielewski’s comparison to be accurate, or do you have a different perspective on writing? As always, I love to hear everyone’s thoughts!

One comment

  1. I think Danielewski is spot on. I know where the stories are; sadly, I sometimes choose to avoid those places, because I’m tired or it will be hard to get the words right, or it will hurt too much. But I know they are there, waiting behind the door I’ve shut against them.

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