A head full of words
In every fairy tale the gold is hidden in the most improbable place. Therefore, it is strange that beginning writers sometimes forget the wisdom of childhood and still think that they should be the next Hemingway, Keats or Ionesco, instead of finding their own gold. Is it better to commit an act of plagiarism than to add new originals to literature?
by Jannie Solaas
Books are a dirty affair. Words get under your skin and in your head. It can’t be avoided since, as poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote, the universe does not consist of atoms, but of stories. Rukeyser perceives all art as a means of communicating the emotions of the artist to a public that is open to them. And she posited out that there is no such thing as bad art.
After all, something that does not touch one heart can touch another, so who knows definitively whether a work is good or bad? You may even sacrifice technique on the altar of creativity and receive a wonderful blessing.
There is a wealth of writer souls in this world. Unfortunately, many of them have not yet been published. Perhaps it is because in certain circumstances publishers have not been open enough. Paul Auster’s debut novel, City of Glass, was turned down by seventeen publishers before one took a chance – with an international bestseller to show for the peculiar and highly interesting work, The New York Trilogy, City of Glass being the first part of it.
Similarly, it is no surprise that Danish translations of a fantastic author like Stephen King fills the shelves of Danish booksellers because of his well-organized techniques and trippy plots that somehow are completely realistic in his hands. Richard Laymon, a fabulous writer of horror, who has qualities, suspense and techniques that, in my opinion, are absolutely equal to King’s, has apparently had only one book translated into Danish despite his over forty novels and even more short stories and other publications. His books are clearly a source of inspiration for all writers in the horror genre and highly entertaining for horror-loving readers.
Another possible reason for not being published could be that the aspiring writer has not yet found his or her original expression. Art requires time. It is not pizzas that the authors are tossing; it is art.
The aspiring writer should therefore not confuse not being published with a lack of skill. A molten gold of creativity hides deep in the subconscious, which forces its magma to the surface in hopes of spectacular revelation.
Unfortunately, this creative magma may erupt as intellectual lava, destroying creative self-worth with a toxic residue from the rational era’s misconception that art is predetermined by certain calculations.
Is there anything else an aspiring writer can do besides sit down and write? Absolutely. All of the inspiration and knowledge about the art of writing, which many crave but think is completely unattainable, is right in front of them, in libraries, at book shops, on the Internet – anywhere words are written. Each time we are compelled to assess whether a precise expression has a positive effect on us, we find our own literary standpoint.
When I evaluate manuscripts for authors and aspiring writers to help them improve their texts, I sometimes encounter notions that the text should strive to be an expression of another mind than the one from which it came. The text sounds like material from an idolized best-selling author, just in another version and with a couple of personal undertones from the actual writer.
Listen carefully. I shall say this only once.
Forget it. Be true to yourself. That is your principal duty as a writer.
Don’t misunderstand me. I love to spend hours next to a lit candle with good old literary diamonds such as Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson, and disappear into wonderful universes with Danish or Japanese heavyweights such as Leif Panduro or Haruki Murakami.
But the world has already been blessed with the sparkling wit and inspiring words of these fantastic souls. Words continue to flow from the pens of some of these writers even now.
On the other hand, literature always needs new thoughts and styles in order to progress through the evolution that every branch of art must endure in order to be renewed and to affect a diverse audience spanning the planet.
The old gold is still gold. Shall we reject new sources of gold simply because it is new, or on the contrary, will literature be richer for it?
Imagine if the branches were sawn off all trees. I would miss the leaves, even the withered ones, because what is a tree if leaves hadn’t once been part of it? Only a trunk.
If everyone wrote like Shakespeare, no one would wish to read his works or see his plays. The public could figure out the ending, and thus, Romeo and Juliet would have to die. Not from the misconceptions of love – they would have died of boredom and gone to their graves with gaping yawns.
There is a third reason not to take literature seriously.
It’s only imagination. My time would be better spent on … Uhmm, what? Of course we could all be of great use to civilization if we were just like Thomas Edison.
Then we would sit here in a shiny and beautiful, but rather too brightly lit world, with absolutely no fuel for our own growth as humans. Because that is the highest purpose of literature – to inspire and move individuals, as well as new artists, with its techniques and stories, no matter how trivial or mysterious they may appear at first glance.
Who hasn’t put down a book and been touched by the layers of meaning within or behind the story because another person took the time to communicate her ideas? Who’s to say that that is of lesser significance than reality? Can a reality exist if thoughts don’t exist?
Results from international studies have shown the positive effects of literature on the well-being and mental development of people. In England, for example, bibliotherapy is employed as an alternative to medication. Through literature and reading groups, people are helped to express things in words and, thus, released from psychological problems.
In the USA, Touchstone’s Discussion Project has helped prisoners to develop empathy and skills that they need in order to leave behind criminality. The means of achieving this? Literature. Thanks to brilliant minds like Homer’s, the prisoners express their thoughts and feelings and, through discussion, gain greater understanding of the weightier concepts of life, such as freedom and responsibility.
To put it quite simply, individual creativity is the gate to creative and personal evolution. Just like love, and that probably tops the list of life’s worthwhile pursuits.
How do you feed creativity then? By thinking differently and trying something new. Take other routes home from work so that you see something besides the usual buildings. Choose destinations and sights you have never been interested in and examine what is interesting about them.
Most of all, do not take anything for granted. Imagine yourself with the eyes of a creature from outer space, and consider new ways of seeing your environment that others haven’t discovered. Contemplate everything from paintings to door handles and try to understand what was going through the mind of their creator. Because it is fun and often difficult to know the precise answer, you will go to bed with the possibilities swimming around in your awareness. The source of creativity is neither boring nor limited. Forrest Gump’s famous words,
My momma said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get, apply very well to art.
Every reader requires a specific language and a particular technique in order to really absorb the message or the entertainment value, so it is just a matter of getting started. Find your unique voice to reach those who haven’t yet heard your message. This is valid regardless of whether you are a publisher’s editor, a bookseller, a librarian or a writer.
The philosopher Epictetus stated,
If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid. So be sure to go to the beach and see the moon reflected in the sea on a starry night, and ask yourself whether the moon is hovering up there and is reflected in the waves, or if it is really lying on the bottom of the sea and reflecting itself in the sky through the water.
Perhaps the universe is different for you than it is for others.
Let the world hear about it.