Sunday, July 26, 2015

On Writing

It's 5 a.m. and I've just finished reading Terry Pratchett's Nation for the third time.

There is something to be said about a book that lights a fire behind your eyes, that wrests you from the sweet caresses of sleep and hauls you in front of your computer screen and forces - no, inspires - you to write. Sometimes I sit here four hours and barely scrape together a couple of mediocre paragraphs, and I often get distracted by my research and Facebook and other things that abound on the Internet. But now I sit down and write, because the fire that has been lit burns hot and bright and fast, like a firework.

I wonder if other people feel this too, at the ends of books they love and enjoy and that lights a fire in their soul. I wonder if it is the same for people reading the Bible, the Quran. I have often lamented the fact that even though I may pass this book around to friends and people I know and love, even though they will hold the same book and flip the same pages and read the same words, it will not light the fire in their soul as it has in mine. I reach the end of a Pratchett book with my soul ablaze and I wonder, no I marvel, at the circumstances of my life, all the little coincidences and choices and quantum collapsing that has evolved this mental shape which is so inflammable to the word of satire but curiously fireproof to the word of God. And I wonder, as I pass the books around and lend them out to friends and people I love in order to spread the good word and bring the good word of Pratchett to these people, beseeching them to read it because it will Change Their Lives; I wonder if all the little circumstances and coincidences and quantum collapses in their lives have evolved a mind which is insulated against my fires, just as mine is insulated against theirs.

I've been writing a story and so I've been reading a lot of Pratchett for inspiration. I've read the stories before, and every time, by the end of the last page and the last word, the smoke is streaming out of my ears. But now that I have started writing myself, I am able to see the intricate and masterful craftsmanship that goes into each and every single word, line, sentence, paragraph. You read about foreshadowing and imagery and back references and when you write it comes out as though you've read the manual and followed the instructions to the letter; but there is a kind of magic in writer's craft, in the work of a wordsmith, weaving plot and character setting and action into one Big Idea...

I hope there's still people reading my blog, because if not then these are just my own thoughts bouncing back to me in the steel ball of a mind.

Poets. Poets are, well... they're like impressionist painters. They have a blank canvas, and they want to communicate a feeling. So they paint, in their clear strokes and gaudy contrasting colours, and when you look at the painting, you see a mess of lines and shades; but there is what looks like an eye here, and here, and this one looks like a mouth, and a nose, and so on; and once you connect the shapes you get the general feeling, the impression, of a man, a face. And the lines and shades and vaguely recognizable shapes will leave you with an impression of a man, but it cannot tell you his height or weight, where he was born or how many siblings or children he had, what he did or what he was going to do. A poem offers an impression, and for some people this is very important, because feelings are experiences too, and so people write poems and poets have their place.

But writers... writers are more like Renaissance sculptors. They have a blank block or marble, and they want to communicate an idea. So they carve it out of the marble, with their chisel of letters and their hammer of narrative; they carve out of the millions and billions of words, the infinite arrangement of letters and spaces and punctuation; out of this infinite space they carve out a story. And with their chisel of letters and their hammer of narrative, they carve out the curve of the eye and the curve of the eyelid, the indentations of wrinkles and the pattern of eyelashes; they carve and they chisel the detail, so fine and so intricate. But when the work is done and the dust is blown away, what is left is a masterpiece of craftsmanship. And unlike the impressionist's painting, the sculpture has form, the sculpture has a shape. And the shape of the sculpture is like the plot of a novel, while the idea the sculpture represents is like the theme, the Big Idea, the fire-starter. And the plus side is that, even if you don't get the Big Idea, even if you can't see the embodiment of Perfection in the form of David, then at least you can say it's a damn fine sculpture.

The fires are burning out now, flames are sputtering, the steam is being run out of. It takes so long to write a book, but so much shorter time in comparison to consume it. And the flame, the flame that it ignites burns out faster still. But perhaps there is a different heat, a kind of glowing ember buried deep in the soul, which ignites the passion and inflames the brain, and launches the firework high into the night sky where it will explode with the brilliance of a sun, for an instant.

The young man smiled, and believed.

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