I’ve read Rebecca (1938) by Daphne Du Maurier. It is a great book of suspense. I read it as part of the BBC book list that I was reading from when I started this blog. (I should get back to that.) I’m not sure why, but I stopped there with Du Maurier. I didn’t think, “That […]
Goblin Market rightfully claims a place among the most sensual and delightful poems of the English canon. Mouth-watering, sexual and erotic in its nature and with luscious, sugary juices cloying its every verse, it is an exquisite work of art.
I was drenched in pleasure while reading it. Rossetti makes it really elusive to bring its meaning to the light. Various interpretations can be presented on the table. Is it a feminist tale about homosexual politics? Is it about feminine sexuality (Eve, the forbidden fruit, temptation) and its relation to Victotian morality? A feminist fantasy? Is the poem about addiction? Is it about sisterly love and sacrifice as Lizzie assumes a Christ-like role with a line that reselmbles the Holy Communion, “Eat me, drink me, love me.”?
It might be all these and even much more. It’s exactly these multiple layers, this elusiveness, the poem’s dreamy quality and the delight that permeates the reader through every verse that make Goblin Market timeless and a delectation to mind, heart and soul.
Craft a Professional Email There’s a lot that goes into what it means to be professional so I won’t linger, but you don’t have to have worked in corporate to understand it. In today’s world, you don’t have to be anyone special to get tons of emails. With Social Media, everyone practically has one […]
”The story is the king,” people say. ”The word is the queen,” I say. Down with this tyrant king! Long live the queen!
From the dawn of time, humanity has been an ever-moving mouth whispering tales. It’s our nature to create something out of nothing, to record and decode life inside a palpitating web of words. But the truth is this: any fool can spin a yarn. It doesn’t take any particular skills except for a little bit of an active mind. Anyone can make up a story. People have been doing it all the time in all the languages of the world, from the little child whose imagination is galloping at the speed of light to the average Joe and plain Jane, from the middle-aged adult to the sweet, old lady next door.
But if this is an innate ability, then what exactly sets the writer apart from the non-writer? And most importantly, what distinguishes the bad writer from the mediocre, the mediocre from the competent, the competent from the good, the good from the great one?
Most often, the story itself isn’t the be-all and end-all. The plot isn’t the terrain upon which a work receives nourishment and gains its flesh. One of the usual complaints we hear is that a writer has an interesting story arc or a fresh idea or complex concepts and yet, that isn’t enough to draw the reader in. Naturally, one wonders. What went wrong? Where did the writer fail and why?
The answer is the execution. A faulty delivery suffices to stifle even the most authentic voice, to mangle the most intricate and rich worldbuilding, to leave wanting the most singular narrative. A thick plot and multiple subplots are not enough on their own to sustain a work. A storyline is the spine that holds up our construction. But the mere skeleton of a house is barely habitable. We inhabit inside living, breathing bodies of buildings. The same applies to our books.
We are not after a kind of work that has merely acquired a raw shape from a quivering mass of mental sparks. We crave to touch its pulsing veins, to hear its beating heart. That’s when we’re flooded with he satisfaction that we gave birth to a being fully alive with an independent existence from our own.
Many writers are aware of what they want to convey. The entire game is played on choosing the most appropriate way to convey it though. That’s where we enter the arena and engage in a bloody fight with words. It’s all about them after all. To choose the best of them, the ripest, to arrange and rearrange them until they turn aflame. To hit the nail on the head. To pick the most suitable in order to present our thinking with the utmost precision and clarity. As Cicero put it in The Oration for Plancius, ”The difference between a good and a bad writer is shown by the order of his words as much as by the selection of them.”
That’s all that stands between a run-of-the-mill and a mind-blowing narrative. We can all craft tales as long as we are literate. However, not all of us can write well or even pen something beyond the ordinary.
Words are sacred, therefore they deserve our love and reverence. Not a blind love just for the sake of it (verbal fireworks offer only hollow impressions. They suffocate the writing like weeds the roses of a garden), but a profound love because of the vast semantic field they unlock before our very eyes.
Each word carries a specific meaning, a subtle or not so subtle nuance that no other can replace. Every writer worth their salt, every writer who’s interested in creating a work of gravitas must be fully conscious of that. From an anthropological point of view, man is homo ludens. According to historian and cultural theorist Huizinga, civilization is based on a game, and all its various manifestations, from verbal communication to religious worship, can be understood as man’s natural inclination to participate in this game.
Huizinga goes on to explain that in contrast with other aspects of civilization, like politics and law that have diverged from their ludic origins, literature still follows the principles that govern every game. Principles like taking part freely in acts devoid of literal meaning and unusual compared to the ones in our daily life, acts governed by rules the participants themselves have agreed upon and, even though they are aware they have no literal meaning, they take them seriously.
Under this prism, literature is a ludic, not literal logos governed by rules decided by its players that can be reconsidered and changed, nonetheless, during the passage of time. And the players, despite knowing that it’s all game far removed from reality, play it as if it unfolded in the real world.
But what kind of game do we writers play when we play literature? We play with reality and unreality, truth and falsehood, fact and fantasy, morality and immorality, creation and destruction, order and chaos, beauty and the grotesque. But, first and foremost, we are word players. Whatever game we play, we play it through the only means at our disposal: words.
And what’s the ultimate game words yield to us? Nothing more than a continuous hide and seek between what lies on the surface and what sleeps beneath it, awaiting for the reader to wake it up. All literature is an unending game of fluidity between denotation and connotation, between the word’s literal and deviant from the common speech significance.
It’s the writers’s responsibility to be that kind of player, to render their words charged and pregnant so that the weight of their meaning alone will impale them on the paper, so that the wind won’t blow them away like poppy petals (to heavily paraphrase the verses of a poet).
Language offers us by nature infinite possibilities to take advantage of in the most positive sense. It’s the writers’s job to broaden the semantic field into which they move in their works, to stretch their words beyond their strictest confines and infuse them with more ”strata”.
In that way, we create a work with multiple layers of meaning that each time it is read, it’s perceived under a slightly different light. In that way, we craft a work with a transparent storyline that lies on the surface of the words, visible and easily understood by the majority, and at the same time with many more storylines that effervesce beneath the first layer.
And that’s the kind of work that will leave an indelible impression on the mind and soul of the reader: a story of substance and depth that speaks about the things that matter without actually saying them.
Let us aspire to that!
The glass has been shattered, and the sand has run out. So, fellow writers, hear me out. Stop looking for the bauble that will make time flow within your palm like a river. It doesn’t exist. It never has.
”How do I find time for my writing?” people ask. ”You don’t find it,” I reply. ”You make it, for nobody will give it to you.” Not the most satisfactory answer, I suppose. But true nonetheless. When there’s a will, there’s a way. Family, friends, job, duties, they all swallow up big chunks from our life. In the end, we feel drained, our body devoid of energy, our mind languid.
But I wonder frequently. Do we use that as a shield? A convenient excuse so as not to come face to face with the fears and insecurities we experience regarding our craft? After all, it’s a safe route to walk upon in order to mollify ourselves at the prospect of failure and disappointment.
The productive, hard-working writers are not such because of luck and idleness. No, their achievements are the fruit of priority. If we truly wish to pen something worth reading, then we better make writing our priority. We shall not wait for time to land on our hands as if it’s our given right. No. We have to milk the days and the nights. We have to squeeze the seconds and the minutes like we squeeze the last drops out of a succulent orange.
Nobody said writers must sit down on their chair and write from dawn till dusk or else their are not real writers (wouldn’t that be a lovely though?). But if we want to pursue this professionally, then we better make the most of every opportunity that climbs up our lap. Half an hour in the morning, a quarter in the evening, twenty minutes before we slip into dreamland. That is more than enough.
Good writing isn’t finished overnight. It’s done word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter. All else is fiction (no pun intended). So, my fellow writers, stop seeking for that enchanted trinket that gifts people with everstreaming time. It’s as fruitful as Ponce de León‘s quest for the Fountain of Youth.
When it comes to big goals, like quitting smoking or writing a book, author Euny Hong recommends you zip your lips. “The declaration of intention paradoxically reveals the lack of intention,” she writes. If you’re working on a project, Euny suggests a vow of silence until you’ve seen it through.
Read snippets of her piece at Quartz:
Why does talking about a big goal, such as writing a book or quitting smoking, sabotage your ability to complete it? Because every time you talk about an unfinished project with someone, you are tricking your brain into thinking you’ve done some of the work. Talking about writing a book gives you the same mental fatigue and satisfaction that you’d get from actually writing for an hour. It’s demotivating.
One of the biggest mistakes people make in life is assuming that intangibles are in greater supply than money. All resources are finite…
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International best-seller Haruki Murakami has a new short story collection out, entitled Men Without Women. To celebrate, here is an excerpt from his essay “So What Shall I Write About?” published in the Japanese literary magazine Monkey Business. In it, Murakami muses on what it takes to become a novelist by analyzing his own methods and experience, and he gives us a glimpse into his creative process. Although Murakami has published numerous essay collections in Japanese, little of his short nonfiction is available in English. This essay was translated by Ted Goosesen, and it, and this issue of Monkey Business, are a treat.
We are─or at least I am─equipped with this expansive mental chest of drawers. Each drawer is packed with memories, or information. There are big drawers and small ones. A few have secret compartments, where information can be hidden. When I am writing, I can open…
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