The pleasure of re-reading

“There is no doubt that whatever amusement we may find in reading a purely modern novel, we have rarely any artistic pleasure in re-reading it. And this is perhaps the best rough test of what is literature and what is not. If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use reading it at all.” Oscar Wilde, “The Decay of Lying”

Beauty in Writing

“It isn’t enough to want to write a story or novel or poem; the writer must also want to make something beautiful–even though that might mean making it ugly…. For art to be successful and beauty to be appreciated, it has to be created out of one’s totality–the light and dark parts, with nothing held back.” Stephen Dobyns, Best Words, Best Order

Taking risks

Do the stuff that only you can do.

The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that’s not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.

The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.

The things I’ve done that worked the best were the things I was the least certain about, the stories where I was sure they would either work, or more likely be the kinds of embarrassing failures people would gather together and talk about until the end of time. They always had that in common: looking back at them, people explain why they were inevitable successes. While I was doing them, I had no idea.

I still don’t. And where would be the fun in making something you knew was going to work?

~Neil Gaiman

When Life imitates Art

Art should imitate life (or so we’re told). Often, we attempt to make our writing a realistic reflection of the world and human behavior. There’s nothing wrong with attempting to recreate the world as we experience it, but sometimes this doesn’t seem to work. Our descriptions may seem trite or colorless, or the experiences of the characters don’t ring true.

In these circumstances, how can we inject new life in our writing? How can we encourage the creative parts of our brain to do their work? Think about ways to tell convincing lies: stories that are not necessarily realistic to your personal experience, but a story that you can feel conviction about, that you can get behind.

In a dialogue titled “The Decay of Lying” Oscar Wilde (king of the tongue-in-cheek aphorism) has one of his characters remark,  “The imagination is essentially creative, and always seeks for a new form.”  This is good for you: you already have the raw materials needed to craft something new. Let your imagination take your writing in the direction that it wants to go. Let your ideas speak through the process of placing words on the page.

If you feel unhappy in your writing, perhaps it’s because you are trying to tell a story that’s already been told. Although as Anne Lamott notes, there are no really original plots under the sun, you also have a unique perspective from which to tell your story. Play around with the possibilities. Be willing to deal with the absurd and the unlikely.

Wilde’s character says:

Literature always anticipates life. It does not copy it, but molds it to its purpose.

This idea that life is the author’s to shape and mold can be very freeing. Instead of being slaves to realistic representation, we can strike out new paths and create as we see fit. If you write a fiction that rings true, a lie with body behind it, you may find that it shapes your way of perceiving the world and changes the way you relate to reality. Once you have the vocabulary to describe something, you will start to see it in the world around you.

In this sense, the idea that life could imitate Art may not be that strange after all.