Thursday, June 4, 2009

lightning,lightning bugs, Twain, Madness of Art

All a writer can do is work on the various aspects of craft and write a prodigious number of words, struggling (because without the struggle the writing is as useless as recitation) to find the right words to be used in the exact right way. And the rest, as the great Henry James wrote, “is the madness of art.”

But showing up and giving honest effort, dreaming big when you can, gives the writer the opportunity to write well, the chance to be in the right place at the right time. Randall Jarrell, the poet, once compared writing poetry to standing out in the rain, hoping to be struck by lightening. Sounds a bit ominous, but you get the idea. Maybe it happens, maybe it doesn’t, but if you’re never out in that rain, you will never be struck by lightning. (Another lightning quote comes to mind, this one from Mark Twain. “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Is that true or what? But I digress) Okay, Jarrell’s quote. Good for poets. They’re notorious street-corner and outdoor cafĂ© loungers. But what about novelists? We’re the grunts, the worker-bees of literature. We can’t simply stand out in the rain and hope for the best; we need plot. We need to go someplace! We need to move! And you can bet a lot of our traveling will be to far away places. It will not only be soggy but treacherous and unforgiving and very, very hard. But we’ve got to do it to have that same chance at making all of our efforts lead us somewhere.

Or so I think today.

4 comments:

Davis said...

Brian, I think novelists just tromp through the rain, holding on to metal rods or hanging out under trees, hoping for the strike of lightning, but getting out there every rain storm. And sometimes we get the lightning and sometimes we don't, but we keep putting words on the page, we keep getting wet. I think novels have flashes of lightning, strokes of brilliance, words that get you in the gut or make you smile or cry. And then there are the other parts, that are just as important, that move the reader, and the writer, from strike to strike.

Love your blog posts, enjoyed stopping and thinking a while . . .
Meredith

brian yansky said...

Well put. That moving from strike to strike seems one distinction between the poet and novelist to me. Thanks for stopping by.

Taylor K. said...

Like this entry to. Lightning strike analogy makes me think of the thought I often have that there are a million ways to write part of the novel, but only one right way. Unfortunately for those of us who write novels we can't just wait for the right way to come to us, but we have to work to find it (Though thankfully it does sometimes just hit us like lightning).

brian yansky said...

I agree, Taylor. All those choices. It's hard and sometimes intimidating because each choice gives and takes away things.