Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Writer's Life - Issue 7

The life of a writer

by Ryuno

An author delivers.

To some ridiculous extents, the sentence above is the truth. It’s like a magical clause we have to sign when we begin our journey through borderline-sleepless nights and ephemeral, vague and unproductive days: you pay your dues, no matter what.

That said, it would absolutely not surprise me to see a writer refusing to accept the divorce for reasons other than the rather overrated concept of romantic love but because of the vows he or she took when they actually believed in them, in himself or herself and the person he or she decided to marry. Everything is about the execution, obviously, but an author cares (or at the very least, should) about principles and concepts above anything else. Not words spoken or written, not shooting a gun, not choosing to stay in a sinking boat and dying with a smile: the reason behind those actions, cause rather than effect.

Quality which turns out to be a double edged sword, as we seek perfection in things others will only be able to speculate about before trying to turn the ideas we have into something remotely readable, hopefully somewhat remarkable. And as with every transcription of speech, every interpretation of an abstract concept that came from a person canalizing its thoughts into paper by using ink, every song with lyrics sung in Australian accent, one thing happens often: things get lost in translation.

Last month I read or heard a joke (not so sure right now) about the way Literature teachers were almost always bluntly wrong about the works they analyzed, to the point of having their theories debunked by crude, uncultured persons who, when faced with something they cannot comprehend, will simplify it by staring very hard at the largest bit they can. Sadly, that happens a lot in modern science. It did happen in the past, obviously, but it happens in a more painful way now because of something we did not possess back then and we have quite a good amount right now. I’ll grant you a tip, the word I am looking for is definitely not “knowledge”.

Arrogance. Academic elitism. Ivory towers, if you’re feeling biblical.

For instance, people who despise and mock religious people and, instead of analyzing facts and learning things in this amazing world of possibilities and free information, take Science for granted and act like it was religion, presuming it is immutable and infallible (when, obviously, if it’s unable to change as new discoveries appear, and God help those sweethearts when they do, it’s definitely not Science). They forget that, dozens, hundreds and thousands of years ago their forefathers assumed the very same: that their knowledge was almost flawless, that they knew Science, not only a small fragment of it with many wrong parts that would be discredited by men who would see the issues in a different light and later ridiculed by juvenile know-it-all students in our present time.

Let’s not delve too deep into Anti-intellectualism, now. This is supposed to be an uplifting message about promises and not my rant on people who wear MENSA certificates as badges, and those who think IQ is the same as wisdom.

The relation is rather simple: we, authors, compose a good part of this world’s share of pseudo-intellectuals. As our enormous guilt, so is our temptation stronger than the others’, considering we are supposed to only tell stories by default yet expected to blow minds, open again old wounds and mend broken hearts. Most of the times, someone else’s. This is a great burden as I am almost sure I have emphasized before.

But we do so with fantasy and delusions more real than reality. We make worlds crowded with people that are detailed with an intricate set of layers, then make them get together at some point when they are somewhat vulnerable and make the singular characteristics of each individual intersect to generate drama, or as some of us know it, plot. Our characters might be stoics or daydreamers, but the writing has to be passionate and well-crafted so that the reading can be immersive. And because of that, we have devised a defense against being so into our own craft of creating simulacra of life that could result in us being unable to know anything else, such as what the original life looks like.

This is the point where we draw the line between young “scientists” who don’t know the true colors of non-derivative works with experimentation and authors. We created a natural boundary that stops us from the snob attitude and even if only from a little portion of it, in a fairly efficient manner.

We make promises.

Sure, everyone makes promises. That doesn’t mean a thing in practice, right? As in the example on the beginning, the husband can ignore the vows. Your friend could forget to pick you up at the dentist when you’re going to be sedated, etcetera. Even you might not live up to the promises you made, but I don’t think you will. Not after reading this.

You should know by now that ideas come and go, vanishing in thin air like spontaneous combusting butterflies would. You think of your characters and setting day and night when you’re not writing, although you are not aware when it begins and when it ends: it just happens to you. It’s even less of a manual thing than breathing.

You are breathing manually now, anyway.

Back to the topic, I’ll have to break something to you: the reason why you keep enthusiastically telling people your ideas for the development and characters, writing books and books with notes and so on is not just to avoid forgetting those details. We underestimate the memory of our frail human bodies, these magnificent machines that can record thousands of songs instrument by instrument, several words and rules, innumerable smells and touches, images we love with our whole being and scenes we’d rather forget: you probably remember the essential content of more than fifty books by heart right now, so why couldn’t you remember a small detail on one that is more important than those to you, being yours and everything?

The writing down, the talking about, it was something else. Concepts can change constantly, but not in front of the public. This is seen as retconning, and it is bad. As in “hella bad”, bad as using the faux-word “hella” without irony. Even what seemed perfect yesterday will look somewhat flawed after a night of sleep. Even democracy does when you think too much about it, so don’t.

You’re making promises, to a friend, to a piece of paper, to yourself: this is set in stone and shall not change. This is a starting point to something bigger, and even if I work more on a part that happens in what would be the past of this promise, it certainly will lead to this. And if you don’t live up to make your book thing happen you were just a pretentious hack, a man who claims to be a non-believer while worshipping idols he carved himself, a big fat liar.

No, you will not take being called that from anyone, not even yourself. So you will push yourself through, turning little by little your half-lies into complete truths. It takes a long time, but you keep getting better at it as you go, and “doing things as you go” is a good skill to learn in this business: don’t fool yourself, no amount of planning will save your story from being on the most part glorified impromptu babble. Editing will, though.

And when you’re done with your set of promises (and although it looks like they never end, the possibility of you getting them done during your life actually exists) it is time to set the bar higher and make up a batch of new lies to live up to. Sounds counterproductive, but that is exactly how you will act. You go back, Jack, do it again. And do you know why?

Because an author delivers: that is our occupation, our target and our way of living. We would not have it any other way, as that is our biggest pride.

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