Writing without duende is like food without flavor. It may fill the pages, but it won’t satisfy the soul.
Duende is a wonderful word. Loosely, it means to have soul. When our writing flows from a deep, authentic place it tends to have duende. We can feel it, and our readers do as well. They glimpse something unique and real in our words.
Writing with duende is the goal of many writers. But it is elusive. When we sit down to write so often all that comes out is the trite and obvious. At times, the space between what we dream of writing and what ends up on the page can feel overwhelming. And yet, duende draws us. It’s an ideal, a way of creating that calls forth our power and passion as artists and dreamers.
So how do we help ourselves write with more soul? The poet Lorca writes, “The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought.” Meaning, I think, that duende isn’t something that we can strive for, but rather comes from living in the thick, rich flow of life. It’s more about being than writing.
In his wonderful book, Ensouling Language:The Art of Non-Fiction and the Writer’s Life, Stephen Harrod Buhner writes about duende this way: The thing that the writer or poet is describing is understood, but not with the brain; mental activity is almost nonexistent. It is instead understood with the whole self. Experientially.
Thus, when we engage our senses before writing, through dance, or walking, or through lighting an aromatic candle or touching soft silk, we are more likely to bring our whole being to our writing.
Technique counts only for so much. Our craft must spring from a deeper place within us is our writing is to have duende. And to get in touch with that, we need, somehow, to get in touch with ourselves.