Archive for January, 2012

January 22, 2012

Writing Novels Is Simple, If You Like Simple Novels


A new writer recently protested while writing his first novel that he frequently felt disgusted and incompetent. He felt that perhaps he should give up—that he didn’t feel “normal” enough to be a novelist. My response was this:

Who told you writing novels was easy? Writing is like life, but more intense—like a life that if all you do is ride a ferris wheel crossed with a roller coaster that breaks down a lot and the only mechanic you know can only be accessed by psychic smoke signals and the only ink available consists of your own blood mixed with stomach bile and the sweat off your back.

It is like that, but it’s also harder than that for a true artist who writes. Also, it’s more fun than real life sometimes because you get to make it all up from your own imagination, although if you don’t have one of those, give up right away. It’s all those hard, sad times that make the good ones so great. Also, it makes for a unique book, and that’s the main point. If it feels like nothing else you’ve ever felt or read, pat yourself on the back—you have arrived. Enjoy the ride.

Advertisements
January 15, 2012

The Work of Writing and Friends

The Work of Writing and Friends

WORK IS MEMORY: I was reminded by a writer friend of mine today about the struggle to work at writing when it is going poorly or not at all. It is an easy reminder for me because mine has not been going well recently. You can tell by my increased attention to my website here. I was also reminded by an opinion piece in The Times. Susan Cain writes: “One explanation for these findings is that introverts are comfortable working alone—and solitude is a catalyst to innovation. As the influential psychologist Hans Eysenck observed, introversion fosters creativity by “concentrating the mind on the tasks in hand, and preventing the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work.” What did help me today was offering my time to help her by remembering my own experience earlier in my own career.

WORK IS PRACTICE: The best thing you can do is show up for it every day, because like any art, much of it takes place between sessions at the page and much of it takes place in the subconscious. I just wrote a paragraph about my main character in my Cuban novel where he imagines that his skin has turned dark overnight. It’s actually the first night he spends together with Tesora, and the vision signifies to him how shallow his prejudice against Africans had been: his mind is blown and his skin is now brown.

WORK IS CRITICISM: Yes, it’s hard to take criticism, but writing is a form of conversation, so feedback is important. Someone once said that whenever someone tells you a piece of your writing doesn’t work, the critic is probably right—at the same time that person, when they tell you how to fix it, they’re almost always wrong. You must stick to that inner self who knows the truth, whatever that is. Take time to sit quietly every day to listen to your inner voice (don’t worry if it sounds exactly like silence). No one can read the vision behind the piece you write.

WORK IS LISTENING: And to show up every day, is also to be a part of that audience yourself. You change and your point of view changes a bit every day, so you can be a better critic for yourself. One of my critics, a young Japanese woman, who writes urban fantasy, is someone I picked who would be far from my own point of view, certainly. She expects a whole different thing from writing—more present-tense action. Me, I think action is best emphasized by pauses, like music uses it to produce rhythm and cadence. I still enjoy reading books who were born in the 1800s. Plus, I have a propensity to enjoy and accomplish a certain lyricism. I enjoy reading it, and I enjoy creating it, too. So way to hang in there, writers: who told you writing was easy?  It’s simple enough; you just stare at the page until blood forms on your forehead: no problem.

WORK IS COLLABORATING: Writing with a partner right there at your side can be helpful too. For a whole year, once a week, I trekked down to the Reading Room of the Boston Public Library and met a friend and we both wrote for a few hours and then had tea to congratulate each other. It was a wonderful way to learn how to show up for the work. Writing regularly helps you to feel good about yourself, even when that time is not a big number. Other things always get in the way: keep writing and feel good about that. I wrote much of one novel commuting on a bus, surrounded by black high school kids yelling and blasting music. At first I thought it would be impossible to write like that, but then it just became part of my routine like the Boston Public Library. Years later it gave me the idea for my last novel with the plot involving a Scottish boy marooned in an all-African Cuban town. Did you ever hear the phrase, “acceptance is the answer to all my problems”? That also applies to writing as well.

January 13, 2012

Wise Blood a Novel by Flannery O’Connor

When it occurred to me I’d never read Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor, I felt I’d be missing something if I didn’t. I’d read a book of her short stories and saw the movie of Wise Blood long ago so perhaps I imagined I’d read it. I’d never knowingly substitute the movie for the book. It is an amazing book. A minor annoyance is wading through the dialect-spellings she uses, but beyond that the book is a marvelous mix of clear writing and language with its impenetrable yet vivid characters.

Well, the characters are impenetrable at first, but also beautifully whole and unique. Mostly, though, they are as mesmerizing in themselves as mysteries which need solving. She does not supply easy answers for that. Through all this she creates a world both of this world and apart from it. I cannot put it down (except to write this review). The story has so taken root in my head, I couldn’t think of another book to mention from the past year.

January 1, 2012

Two Means of Swan by Alfred Lord Tennyson and Camille Saint-Saens

Two Means of Swan by Alfred Lord Tennyson and Camille Saint-Saens

The music and the poem:

The Dying Swan

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

I.

The plain was grassy, wild and bare,
Wide, wild, and open to the air,
Which had built up everywhere
An under-roof of doleful gray.
With an inner voice the river ran,
Adown it floated a dying swan,
And loudly did lament.
It was the middle of the day.
Ever the weary wind went on,
And took the reed-tops as it went.

II.

Some blue peaks in the distance rose,
And white against the cold-white sky,
Shone out their crowning snows.
One willow over the river wept,
And shook the wave as the wind did sigh;
Above in the wind was the swallow,
Chasing itself at its own wild will,
And far thro’ the marish green and still
The tangled water-courses slept,
Shot over with purple, and green, and yellow.

III.

The wild swan’s death-hymn took the soul
Of that waste place with joy
Hidden in sorrow: at first to the ear
The warble was low, and full and clear;
And floating about the under-sky,
Prevailing in weakness, the coronach stole
Sometimes afar, and sometimes anear;
But anon her awful jubilant voice,
With a music strange and manifold,
Flow’d forth on a carol free and bold;
As when a mighty people rejoice
With shawms, and with cymbals, and harps of gold,
And the tumult of their acclaim is roll’d
Thro’ the open gates of the city afar,
To the shepherd who watcheth the evening star.
And the creeping mosses and clambering weeds,
And the willow-branches hoar and dank,
And the wavy swell of the soughing reeds,
And the wave-worn horns of the echoing bank,
And the silvery marish-flowers that throng
The desolate creeks and pools among,
Were flooded over with eddying song.

%d bloggers like this: