How One Word Changed My Outlook on Writing

At the beginning of a Rennaissance Lyric class I took, we were asked to choose a literary term and study it throughout the semester. The assignment culminated in a 20 page paper on the meaning of that word. Although I wasn’t familiar with it, the word I chose was simple: volta. In the realm of literary terms, the word means a shift in tone, cadence, thought or direction in a literary work.

As I continued this project, however, I found I had a much stronger relationship to the Spanish cognate, voltar, which means to turn, to return, or to go back.

At the start of the assignment, I fell in love with not only the word, but the idea of it. I was intrigued by its various uses, how its meaning and usage morphed and grew from its birth hundreds of years ago (it was coined in 1642, to be exact) to how it is used today. The more I studied its definitions, the more I stood in awe of its frequent usage, and the fact that I had never known of its existence.

However, near the end of the semester, after pouring over one hundred poems grasping for any textual example of a volta, I had a panic attack. Suddenly, the word seemed utterly dry, boring, and obvious. With any other word, this would not have presented a problem; but with a 20 page paper due in less than two weeks, I scrambled to search for a more powerful meaning.

That was when I realized that writing is messy business. The process of writing itself is much like a volta; it must be returned to again and again before it is complete. When we write, we create something out of nothing. A volta is not just a literary term used in writing, it is the process of writing.

Once a literary work is published, all we see is the final product (unless you have read the uncut version of The Waste Land; Ezra Pound was ruthless). The return again and again to work is un-documented; the ugly side behind the creation of a masterpiece is hidden.

Perhaps writers want it this way. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be thought of as a perfect-writer-genius? But as much as there is a story in the written word on the page, as all writers know, there is another story of trial and error behind the words. Writing can be hard, tedious, and messy, but this process is something all great writers must experience. What inspires you to return to your writing again and again?

Featured image courtesy of photosteve101 via Creative Commons