Thursday, March 17, 2011

Write for the Next Generation

St Pat's Day yesterday and we went out to celebrate. Great lunch at an Irish pub with a band playing. Green hats, Irish flags and Guinness signs everywhere. Terrific fun.

It occurred to me how amazing it was that the logistics behind this essentially unofficial world holiday are enormous - and a great testament to the tenacity of humans to find an excuse to celebrate!

Ah well - back to the real world today - and back to writing.

What's clear is that we do need time out sometimes, just to get a better perspective on our lives and rejuvenate our spirit.

Writing can be a solitary profession. We tend to spend a lot of our time alone, typing words into a computer, allowing our subconscious to spill forth words onto the page. Just as it should be.

It's funny. Every now and then I allow myself to get involved in other people's affairs. I've noticed that other people like to be sociable and have lots of get-togethers where they just enjoy each other's company.

As a writer I tend to observe rather than participate. I find the way people interact rather fascinating - and educational. Watching the process can give me lots of ideas for stories and novels, which, sadly, I'll probably never write - because there's not enough time!

Somerset Maugham mentioned something along the same lines. As much as he hated human interaction himself, he couldn't help but be drawn to study the human condition - and marvel at the way we get sucked in to each other's lives, though not always in a good way.

Most of Maugham's stories deal with this in one way or another. On Human Bondage is the prime example. A young man is drawn into a couple's relationship and finds himself falling in love with them, with dire consequences.

There are no real profound observations made in the book - or indeed any satisfactory conclusions made. But it is a fascinating exploration of the way we tend to bond with each other, just by allowing ourselves to get close.

For a writer, these interactions can be good fodder for stories because we see the subtleties that other, more involved people, can miss - or don't see as necessarily interesting enough to document.

It's a writer's separateness that defines him / her. The idea that writers can distance themselves from the life around them enough to be able to observe and comment in an objective way is interesting to me.

Sometimes I envy people who can get so involved in life they can't see the wood for the trees. Me, I'm always analyzing, evaluating, reconstructing the world in my mind, in pursuit of some kind of wisdom. But am I missing out on the fun?


I guess my fun comes from writing it all down.

Because, to me, there's no point to insight unless it's shared.

As a kid, I feverishly wrote down many insights, thinking that, of course, I was the first person in the world to notice them, telling myself that one day I would be a great novelist and astound people with my powers of observation...

But reading soon put a stop to the idea that I was the first...

Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh is depressing for me in this regard. It contains an amazing insight or two about the human condition pretty much on every page. Strange that Butler didn't want the book published until after his death - for fear of offending anyone he knew.

The book itself may have disappeared into obscurity were it not for James Joyce - much later - singing its worthy praises.

To me, there's a huge difference between novels that describe life - like most modern books - and novels that understand the human condition. And as much as I love thrillers and horror stories, I do like it when authors show they have more insight...

Michael Chrichton - now sadly no longer with us - was one of those rare authors that had the ability to write compelling stories AND reveal character in a way that transcended mere storytelling.

It's a subtle difference in style.

Most writers can tell a story - usually based on things that seem important to them.

The real talent is to be able to tell stories that are important to all of us. Like Conrad, Maugham, Samuel Butler or Herman Melville.

Curiously these authors weren't always revered during their lifetimes - probably because they weren't writing the bestsellers of the time.

And perhaps the same is true of today. We get so wrapped up in the bestsellers - as though the only important works are those that sell the most. Whereas in reality, the most profound observations are probably being made by authors that, although they currently seem only on the sidelines, will stand the test of time.

It's hard to tell which writers will last - and who will be forgotten by the next generation.

It's so hard to get around the idea that we have to make money to survive. It corrupts our thinking.

Tolstoy went through the angst associated with this.

He was a popular novelist while he was alive - but became convinced he couldn't do his best work based on that. In a fit of existential angst, he gave away all his money, property and assets when he was around 60 years old. He sought out the garret, where he felt he might be able to give his work the honesty he deemed it required.

Perhaps inevitably, he never wrote a decent novel again. He lived from day to day, struggling to survive, putting on a brave face but inwardly kicking himself for removing the comforts that had allowed him to write with ease.

Here lies the writer's most recurrent dilemma.

When we want to express ourselves most, it's often because we need to rage against the discomfort or frustrations in our lives. But we can't find the time to write...

But when we're comfortable enough to say what we want, and have all the tools we need, we often don't feel inspired enough to say them anymore!

The trick is balance I think.

We must strive to stay pure. Use the hard times to inspire you - focus on the reasons why you wanted to express yourself in the first place - and, even when you're comfortably off, never forget that there will always be others out there who need to experience the profound wisdom you might be able to offer them.
Keep writing!

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write


"What is art but a way of seeing?" Saul Bellow
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