You Have No Say To Write That
Have you ever wondered how eminent authors write so effortlessly? Beautifully? Meaningfully? Unforgettably? Here are three authors on the subject of rivers. Read them aloud if you like.
“The Thames here had a vastly different character to the wide, muddy tyrant that seethed through London. It was graceful and deft and remarkably light of heart.” The Clockmaker’s Daughter – Kate Morton
“ . . .our boat, turning sharply, steams out of the green water into—what can I call it?—a flood of fluid crystal,—a river of molten diamond,—a current of liquid light?” Leaves from the Diary of an Impressionist – Lafcadio Hearn
“I sit down by the river. Its incessant flow has polished the rocks carried from the top of the mountain. The aqueous caress, that has unrolled for millions of years the liquid ribbon from the summits towards the plains, keeps the freshness of the youth . . .How long after my small passage on Earth will have been forgotten, the river will continue to flow, to carry its rocks, to erode the mountain until it becomes a plain, to spread life like a vein of the Earth ?”
Could you see the river flowing? Hear it? Smell it? Did any of the quotes recall a vivid memory of a river on which you boated, or floated, or swam? Or sat and watched?
What empowered Morton, Dubois, and Hearn to create such realistic pictures with words?
There are two main schools of thought on this:
Quality authors take master’s classes in creative writing, literature, drama and apply what they studied and learned.
Kate Morton, who has written six novels – all best-sellers – did graduate work in master’s classes, including a Shakespeare course at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She learned character arcs, topic sentences, plot points, points of view, et cetera.
Quality authors are born geniuses; naturals, creating excellent sentences, paragraphs, scenes, chapters and novels on the spot, through inspiration, or DNA.
Gabrielle Dubois took no classes in writing. One evening she said to her husband, “I’m going to write a story that I love, a story about a woman, the one I’ve been thinking about for as long as I can remember, the one I’d like to see on screen. A heroine who would speak to me.” So she did.
Lafcaido Hearn never learned to write in a school classroom, and yet, at the end of the 19th century, Hearn was one of America’s best-known writers, one of a stellar company that included Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Unfortunately, Hearn has been forgotten, except in Japan. (Read his amazing life history in The Many Lives of Lafcadio Hearn – The Paris Review , July 2, 2019).
So, according to the second model of writing, Gabrielle Dubois and Lafcaido Hearn write as “Naturals.” They were born writing geniuses. Or they were suddenly, mysteriously inspired, and the sentences flowed from their creative souls to the paper. Result? A full-blown, full-grown masterpiece, on the spot. No problem, thank you very much.
Don’t accept either of these theories about writing.
Kate Morton isn’t an outstanding writer because she studied writing from the best professors at the best schools and universities.
That had nothing to do with the quality of her work.
Gabrielle Dubois and Lafcaido Hearn are not “Naturals.”
In fact, there is no such thing as a “natural” in any walk of life, including baseball (sorry, Roy Hobbs).
Neither genius nor inspiration, had anything to do with Gabrielle or Lafcaido’s writing excellence. Nothing.
Only one model leads to the pinnacle of excellence in writing: Hard Work. Hard work that polishes talent as the river polishes the stones in its bed.
The writer studies what she has written, word by word, sentence by sentence. What is this sentence saying? Is that what I wanted it to say? Write it again. Revise. And again. Alter. Can this sentence live without that word? Overhaul. Does that sentence have to be killed and buried? Cut.
Kate Morton has killed a lot of sentences. So has Gabrielle Dubois. So did Lafcaido Hearn. So did William Shakespeare. All great sentence smiths have. Sentence smiths heat and hammer and forge sentences until they do a lot more than tell or show readers something:.
The best sentences imply; signify; hint at something. The best sentences have the capacity to speak to readers in the deepest, silent center of their being.
Listen to what a few literary giants said about revision:
Interviewer: “How much rewriting do you do?” Hemingway: “It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.” Interviewer: “Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?” Hemingway: “Getting the words right.”—Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review Interview, 1956.
“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” —Colette, Casual Chance, 1964
David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest, 1996, Consider the Lobster, 2005) has the last word: “The cliche, ‘Writing that appears effortless takes the most work’ has been borne out through very unpleasant experience.”
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