Marya Spence of Janklow and Nesbit Recommends...

When I think about how “good” writing works, I find myself constantly returning to two main purposes: translation and movement. I grew up in a household where language and expression were so important as to feel like a means for survival. My father, a mathematician, was a dominant personality who thought in numbers, algorithms, models, and charts, and much of our family culture flowed analytically from there. I, on the other hand, thought in poems, images, and phrases I hoarded—a natural collagist. Between divorces, moves, and rotating households, I realized that the only way to stay afloat, hold safe ground, and be seen was to focus on perfect, lasting expression. If you can describe it exactly as it is, phrase it exactly how it feels, no one can tell you it isn’t a truth. I came to understand this as an act of translation for the sake of existence, and I think that’s where storytelling comes from: the need to translate one kind of truth to another, the only way being through words.

The other purpose of writing came to me later, through the work of editing and agenting, and that is the purpose of movement. There comes a point in any work of writing where I want to be able to ask you, the writer, Where did we start, and where did we go? This can mean a lot of things: a character’s growth, a revelation, even perhaps a deconstruction of a starting assumption. But we cannot linger in one room, one truth, one notion for the entirety of a book. That’s just an art object. All writing must make a journey from point A to point B.

So my advice to all writers is to consider themselves translators and also movers. And to ask themselves often and frequently if the work is getting done.

Marya Spence of Janklow & Nesbit Associates