Posts Tagged ‘confidence’

The crown of creation

Authors (and other creative artists) often have a tortured view of their craft. Literature has been called “a curse” (Thomas Mann), a way of exorcising personal demons (Vargas Llosa), “a dark place [where] you have to go through all that grief” (Bryan Ferry) and a way to understand that ” ineluctable defeat called life” (Milan Kundera).

Rollo May

To be fair, some writers see their calling as a joy — Stephen King says “Every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy“, and the cartoonist Bill Tidy “Drawing gives me as much pleasure today as it did when, as a four-year-old, I produced my first efforts of laboriously pencilled cowboys on jam pot lids.

A third view, and perhaps a deeper and more challenging one, is that put forward by the American psychoanalyst Rollo May, who believes that a desire to create heads the list of qualities desirable in a human being.

The creative process must be explored not as the product of sickness, but as representing the highest degree of emotional health, as the expression of the normal people in the act of actualizing themselves,” he wrote. “[I]f you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also, you will have betrayed your community in failing to make your contribution.

In May’s view, it is not inner demons which drive people to write, rather that the act of creation and of expression is intimately bound up with anxiety.

Joy is the zest that you get out of using your talents, your understanding, the totality of your being, for great aims,” he said in an interview. “Musicians, men who wrote music — Mozart and Beethoven and the rest of them — they always showed considerable anxiety, because they were in the process of loving beauty, of feeling joy when they heard a beautiful combination of notes.

That’s the kind of feeling that goes with creativity. That’s why I say the courage to create. Creation does not come out of simply what you’re born with. That must be united with your courage, both of which cause anxiety but also great joy.

May believed that freedom, courage and anxiety are different elements of the same thing — the symptoms of a human being engaged in fulfilment and a search for truth.

If [art] were easy, it wouldn’t be effective. It’s not easy. Life is difficult, and I believe has many conflicts in it, many challenges. But it seems to me that without those life wouldn’t be interesting.

I believe in life, and I believe in the joy of human existence, but these things cannot be experienced except as we also face the despair, also face the anxiety that every human being has to face if he lives with any creativity at all.

Categories: Attitude Tags: , , ,

Dialogue Dont’s and Do’s

Dialogue in a novel is like acting in a film — you don’t notice when it’s done well, but you sure do when it’s done badly.

word use

And dialogue is crucial; readers may skip your description of a 10-course meal at the Countess’s chateau, but they will never skip dialogue, according to the king of dialogue, Elmore Leonard.

Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

The last three novels/manuscripts I’ve read have all made the cardinal error in dialogue of including characters’ names, thus:

Well, what do you think of that then Julian?”

“I don’t know Barry. How about you?

Clunky dialogue like that torpedoes a novel instantly. It comes from authors believing that dialogue is supposed to sound like real speech, or believing that their readers are so dim that they can’t figure out who’s talking to whom.

If there’s any confusion, have one of the characters do something, like scratch their nose or play with their pen. But leave their names out of the dialogue, please.

A similar, though less extreme, fault is over-tagging of dialogue, adding “he said”, “she said” to the end of each piece of dialogue. That clunks badly, too. On that subject, Elmore Leonard believes passionately that authors should never use any verb but “said” to tag dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But ‘said’ is far less intrusive than ‘grumbled’, ‘gasped’, ‘cautioned’, ‘lied’.

And, he says, you should never embellish “said” with an adverb: “. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.

Dialogue is not meant to sound like normal speech; nor is it meant to be a vehicle for the author to stick their noses into the action.

A sure way to check if your dialogue is making the grade is to read it out loud to yourself. This hurts; even on your own it tends to be embarrassing.

But how much better to embarrass yourself in the confines of your garden shed, or wherever you compose your masterpieces, than to embarrass yourself in public when your clunky dialogue is published.

Linky time


First, I found an excellent summmary of how and why authors should remain invisible, in a blog post called Writing vs Blathering, which discusses both why authors (particularly inexperienced ones) tend to blather, and what are the effects on their story. It also underlines why every writer, inexperienced or not, should have their work thoroughly and professionally edited.

Second, a prominent book reviewer, author and blogger asked me some questions about my approach to the writing process, satire and publishing in general, and he posted the results here.

Categories: Technique Tags: , ,

Explore your mind

I got a timely reminder from this blog that writing is a two-way process. In other words, in the act of writing you are not only explaining things for your readers, but you are discovering stuff about yourself.

One thing most writers (well, creative artists of any kind) face is their self-doubt, as the musician David Gray explained in an interview about his newest album:

“Fear and doubt are huge obstacles. In terms of your own work you have to try to overcome them. It would have been so easy to get freaked out but I’m really delighted that I didn’t. I did lose the plot at times in some ways, as you do when you’re immersed in something and you’re kind of craving it stopping, but you can’t let go of it either.”

You have to be awfully confident of your own ability not to feel something of what Gray describes.

Categories: Attitude Tags: , ,