Saturday, June 7, 2008

Writcraft: The Magical Art of Writing

Bearded monk writing at medieval desk
Writing, as any form of art, is a craft, meaning that you have to keep chiseling at it, and you can improve your trade over time. It involves a certain kind of commitment and endurance. It is a vocation and although talent can come in handy, it is not the quintessential element. Some writers you can tell have worked very hard, and like Flaubert they are on an interminable quest for the “mot just”; others simply sit down and are led hither and thither flying high on the plumes of their imagination and out pour the ideas like a sprinkling fountain.

While the latter have to be geniuses or perhaps gods, most of us humble writers not blessed with the divine gift of the flowing gab fall into the first category - perhaps on the lower scale of it unless we are relentless perfectionists. My take on perfectionism is to be careful, to be very careful that you do not drain all the life out of your writing and that you actually manage to bring your product to its close. Do not throw your pages into the fire in a fit of rage; do not tear down your house of imagination ending up with nothing, not even ruins. It is always easier to start than to actually finish a novel. But either way, patience goes a long way.

I tend to compare the writer to the forger who works under the blazing fire of his intellect and imagination to bend metals to his desired and unique shape. The writer is the one who never gives up and when in despair she locks up the pages in an undefined corner of her drawers to let them (and herself) cool down and with renewed hope and perspective she returns to her daunting task.

It struck me as a surprise and as an incentive when I stumbled upon an interview with Matt Damon on the Actor’s Studio. I must admit that I have not really considered acting a craft and although Matt strikes me as a relatively good actor, I was stunned to find out how much work and preparation went behind all his movies. Over the period of an hour, Matt Damon turned out to be the perfect hardworking handyman of the arts to me. We all know that Robert de Niro and Daniel Day-Lewis are the most dedicated and brilliant men in the business, yet Matt’s energy and dedication struck me simply because I would categorize him as the ordinary “mot just”-searching man than the genius or acting god.

His first role he took so seriously that he lost tremendous amount of weight through heavy exercise and dieting for its preparation; something that seriously endangered his health. When noticing that his performance was not as recognized as he had wished, he still did not break down but continued in the movie industry - and got his lucky break(s).

Examples like this are prevalent in many other areas as well; yet I felt quite motivated for my own craft after watching his burning desire for improving his “act.” Writing is frustrating when you polish a work that you think is a mini-masterpiece, and you send it out to the publishers who send you a “thank you” note followed by the line that your work does not fit their needs at the time. For the first dozen times you can probably swallow our pride and take it stoically, but after a while it drains you, and worse, it makes you doubt yourself. You are ready to quit and throw the towel and accept the fact that writing is not your cup of tea after all. Persistence may pay off, but not for you; in your case, it would be a waste of time.

But it is my belief that you can work on it and improve. It may take several attempts or takes; it may bring you to the borderline of despair, of insanity. It’s a double-edged sword because first you cut yourself through your hardworking drive to create something memorable and good, and then it is them, the publishers who cut your work into pieces, by which you are affected as well since it is your brainchild - you are connected to it by an invisible umbilical cord.

It is all just trifles in the end. It is writcraft; it is pure magic. What you manage to create on the page or your computer screen, if it is made with your own sweat and blood, then you have fulfilled the craft, at least for now. Until you tackle your next project. And maybe somewhere someone will recognize and value its magic and give you your worth and the winning ticket you have been waiting for so long.

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