Invisible Ink

Almost-invisible ink.

Novel-writing is an act of wild optimism. It is for any writer, I think, but particularly for those of us who aren’t published. When I begin writing, I write not for an audience, not even for myself, but for the story–because there is a story that wants to be told. When I revise, though, it is with audience in mind. Will my thoughts come across clearly, my images vividly? Are these characters believable, sympathetic, real?


The initial drafting is a kind of possession. The raw material of story seizes you, sinks its fingers into your windpipe, and refuses to let go. Revision is different–a smoothing, a subtle shaping of worked clay. The story is birthed and must now undergo its metamorphosis. This is the point, for me, at which audience truly begins to matter.

But here’s the rub–there is no audience. This is true for published writers as well, but in the case of the unpublished writer, there’s a special sort of insanity at play. I am writing, but I don’t know if anyone will ever read my words.

The thing with feathers.

We write for ourselves, of course. I think the best writing always emerges from some deep personal compulsion. Stories demand telling, and there’s something wired into us, something ancient and deep, a creative impulse that demands release in the form of stories. But at some point, like the Velveteen Rabbit, a story has to be loved ragged in order to become real.


It is a strange feeling to return to a story poured on the page in a burst of abandon, and to try to shape it for the reader, without being sure if the story will ever find its way to that reader at all. If you google “odds of getting published,” you will quickly discover that no one actually wants to tell you what the odds are because odds are numbers and we are writers and would rather tell you a story. But those odds feel completely overwhelming. They feel like the odds of discovering a message in a bottle, and that’s what the submissions process can feel like, too–like writing a novel and cramming it in a bottle and casting it out upon the ocean.

The odds of finding a message in a bottle are, according to CNN,  “about the same as your chances of finding a golden ticket in a Wonka bar.” And yet, there is a man who has found dozens of messages in bottles, and you can read about them here. I think I have a new hero………

IMG_20160507_125821461_HDRI am thinking about all this today because for some reason I decided it would be a good idea to fill my fountain pen with canary-yellow ink. Apparently “canary yellow” means “almost the same color as paper.” As I wrote, I found that I could hardly read what I’d just written, and that unmoored me. Without easy reference to the words I’d just said as I flicked my eyes back up the page, I found it was harder to know where I was going. Our pasts inform and guide our futures. Symbol metaphor blah blah blah.

But it got me thinking about writing without an audience–at least, without an audience that exists outside my own head. Some days I feel like I’m writing bottle-messages in invisible ink. Why do I do this??

Recently Gabriel Posey, a blogger I admire, gave up his quest for publication. His posts on the subject have been authentic and honest, deep-digging. They’ve forced me to examine and re-examine my own journey. I’ve been spending a lot of time examining my own motivations.

In the end, for me, it’s about hope, that pesky thing with the canary yellow feathers that perches in the soul and sets up an infernal racket and won’t shut up. It’s hope that my stories will find their readers, because I’ve found so many stories that have mattered to me. If I could do that for someone–set adrift a book that that found its way to someone and made that someone’s world a little more beautiful or bearable–I would feel wildly successful. That’s my golden ticket.




10 thoughts on “Invisible Ink

  1. If your book is half as witty as your blog posts, it will be stellar. I am hearing you loud and clear about hope today as I’ve spent the last 5 hours recording and sense I have nothing to show (or should I say “hear”) for it; the musical equivalent of invisible ink, perhaps?

    1. Thanks, muz4now–your encouragement is always appreciated! Maybe this is just one of those days…….I think a lot of the process is churning out stuff that may never make it to anyone, but that shapes us somehow and gets us ready to make the really important stuff.

      1. I agree. And sometimes, the “failures” and stalls inform me/us from the inside in ways we won’t understand or bring to fruit for some time.

  2. As I read this post I kept thinking about this quote from Vonnegut’s Galapagos: “Does it trouble me to write so insubstantially, with air on air? Well—my words will be as enduring as anything my father wrote, or Shakespeare wrote, or Beethoven wrote, or Darwin wrote. It turns out that they all wrote with air on air.”

    1. Oh, that’s excellent–thanks for sharing! It is “air on air,” isn’t it? So ephemeral and yet somehow so enduring…….Thanks for giving me this to think about–I’ll be mulling this one for a while…….

  3. Just this morning, I listened to the The TED Radio Hour podcast. Today’s episode was, “The Case for Optimism.” And, being an eternal optimist, I have to say, it’s the only way to live. Hope and optimism seem to me to be 2 sides of the same coin. One of the stories that was featured was about how optimism actually leads to success. If you HOPE you will be published someday, you work harder on your craft, thereby increasing your odds that you will in fact, be published someday. :O) I love the neuroscience of this (because I’m a brain geek!) and I try to live my life from this place. I WILL be successful, because I THINK I will be successful, therefore I usually END UP being successful (and if I’m not, my optimistic brain comes up with perfectly reasonable ideas as to why not: it wasn’t the right time, there are better things ahead, yadda, yadda, yadda.) This might border on delusion – but I’m weirdly okay with it. You might even say it fills me with hope for all those things, people, and passions that matter to me. (You’re on that list!) XO

  4. Thanks, Barb! I should go back and listen to the rest of that podcast–I started listening in the car on the way to work and really wanted to skip school to find out what happened……one of those “NPR moments.” 🙂 Love that we were both listening to this! And I love your optimism, and this bit about the very real and practical power of hope. Good stuff–thanks for sharing! ❤

  5. Wiser canary yellow words have never before been inked. Love you and your writing, And the world is better for your words, truly. Xo.

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