First, I have to vent my spleen at the snow we received the other day. Grrrr.
That same day, my good friend Nancy emailed the following quote from a blog written by middle grade author Tricia Springstubb.
In singing, there are things called “head voice” and “chest voice,” and from what I gather, the ideal is to blend them together. On days when the writing doesn’t go well, it’s usually because I’m only using what I think of as my head voice. The words vibrate up there, serviceable and doing what they’re supposed to do—move this scene and plot along—but even as I write them, I know I’m going to have to revise them. My chest voice—the voice that draws from my heart—isn’t weighing in, and without it, the words are just words.
After reading that quote, I analyzed where I fit on the voice scale and came up empty. So I have to ask if there is another choice. For example, is there a “spleen voice”? I don’t mean a voice in which you express your anger or bitterness. I mean a voice that defies categorization—an “I don’t know what I’m doing” voice.
“I don’t know what it does” also fits my knowledge about the spleen’s function. When in doubt, I usually turn to Wikipedia:
The spleen . . . is an organ found in virtually all vertebrate animals. Similar in structure to a large lymph node, it acts primarily as a blood filter.
As I learned while writing textbooks, never rely on just one source. So, I checked further. According to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s website, the spleen
Recognizes and removes old, malformed, or damaged red blood cells. When blood flows into your spleen, your spleen performs “quality control”; your red blood cells must pass through a maze of narrow passages. Healthy blood cells simply pass through the spleen and continue to circulate throughout your bloodstream. Blood cells that can’t pass the test will be broken down in your spleen by macrophages. Macrophages are large white blood cells that specialize in destroying these unhealthy red blood cells.
Haven’t you experienced those days when words simply pass through you like blood passes through the spleen? If you’re like me, in between checking your email or other time consumers, maybe you squeak out 187 words, rather than the 500 to 2000 you told yourself you would produce. You then go back and add maybe a comma before you take a sip of coffee and go back to playing a videogame—your reward for being so “productive.” On those days maybe also like me you aren’t sure if the words are serviceable or just plain rubbish. But you slap them down on the page like a house painter slaps a paintbrush against a wall and hope the result will be pleasing at some point.
It’s great that the spleen knows which blood cells are healthy and which aren’t. I don’t always know that about my writing—hence the need for revision (quality control). As we revise, we identify the chapters or character arcs that don’t pass muster and either revise them or eliminate them from our stories. Think of this process as the editorial lymphatic system at work. Beta readers and reading a piece of writing out loud also aid in the filtering process.
Do you pay attention to whether you’re writing from your head or your heart? Why do you think a combination of both is ideal?
Spleen illustration from Wikipedia. Paint roller from freevectors.com.