William Gibson, in his recent book of essays, described his early writing process; focusing exclusively on creative fiction, vowing never to spend time writing diaries or journals, or being a writer of non-fiction; making sure all his output is geared towards fiction writing; a strategy that proved effective considering his output as a novelist of science fiction. Only recently has Gibson allowed himself to stray from his own rule, coming out with his recent book of non-fiction but explaining his decision early on; similar to Hemingway who tended not to give lots of speeches or speak publicly in a professional manner; preserving all verbal output to prose, thinking that non-fiction writing would waste that reservoir of magic; senselessly dispersed if wasted in activities other than creative writing; hoping to focus only on fiction that results in being well paid. Mainly because writing in journals or non-fiction is easy to do, a deceptive activity that feels like writing but distorts the creative forces at work; a sort of corruption that would derail one’s goal of being a fiction writer. Focusing exclusively on fiction is something that full-time writers can do, unlike others who have a day job and need a minor outlet for creativity; something that would keep the dream alive.
My experience is the complete opposite; which explains my failure to finish a work of fiction, wasting time in journal entries or even in Toastmasters as trivial outlets of creativity, hoping these tasks are worthy exercises to keep the writing nimble; but now realizing that whatever benefit one can get has already been taken long ago. Gibson is right in thinking that this type of writing is painless to do and corrupts the creative instinct, now one wonders if it can be regained. He has interesting insights; one about reading as the spark for a writer; one becomes a writer because of his reading, so at least one is correct in reading broadly but one wonders how much is needed to get the appropriate mix that would stimulate magic. But ‘magic’ is not the right word, it’s the grinding work of craft, the one way to focus exclusively in fiction; a requirement of sheer discipline that writers like Gibson has achieved; no fooling around – a no nonsense approach; an effort needed for full time writers or one’s starves to death like one of those unfortunate artists unable to achieve financial success. Hence, weekend writers like me, trying out writing activities whenever one can (like blogging), probably is misguided and in need of formal guidance, perhaps attending expensive MFA courses maybe the way ahead.
There is stealth to being a writer; feeling a sense of inadequacy in one’s present circumstances, similar to James Joyce last sentences in ‘Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man’, living in the shadows until one writes about the ‘uncreated conscience of his race’, or similar to Clint Eastwood when he remarked that he has ‘a rebel in his soul’. Perhaps this is what drives creativity, an unrequited desire that is unnameable like an animal urge to procreate; an artistic instinct to create, hurling people forward; being bohemians in spirit but trying to be regular folks. But Gibson is right; concentrating in fiction channels the animal spirits towards expression in the right direction, not frittered away in works that achieve nothing but playing with one; a sort of mental masturbation. Maybe this is what reading books does to you, make one see other shores, other peoples, other stories and create an urge to be more alive; reading stimulates the instinct to write because the same mental circuitry is engaged; the alchemy of imagination becoming animate in the appreciation of prose. Bringing the imagination derived from reading and towards creating fiction requires craft, like forcing a wild horse towards the discipline of focus, instead of the unending self-reflection and clever non-fiction writing of a dilettante.