Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Writers are lucky people

Today in my lecture, I was trying to explain to a room of semi-glassy-eyed students the importance of observing.  That is one of the things that I believe makes writing so worthwhile - everything you see is useful.

Much like some of my artist friends can look at an object and perfectly sketch the interplay of light, good writers are able to take the world around them and spin it into new circumstances, places and times.  The sparkle of the lights of the city might become a mage's tower on a far-off horizon; the reflections on the river could be a wavering mirror-world.  Looking out over the edge of Mount Coot-tha on a clear night is like looking over the edge of Larry Niven's Ringworld.  The world is full of amazing sights, amazing moments, that we can capture and store for later use.

In this regard, I think writers are fantastically lucky.  No moment is ever really lost, if you take the time to write it down.  I'm not an artist or a composer, but I imagine the principle is similar.  To convey an emotion, you just need the correct set of tools.  For us, that's words, and the fact that words are so simple, accessible and flexible means we can reach almost anyone in the world.

I'm very picky about my art.  I far prefer classic styles to modern ones, and so my interpretation is hopelessly biased.  Similarly, I can't stand most jazz or blues, but I love classical music and hardstyle techno.  Try explaining that combination succinctly.  So it is with writing - I don't like the literary genre, for example - but words are still words, and can still create a feeling - my blogging, here, has no particular genre, except for perhaps the whiny-old-woman genre, but if I say something of interest, people are likely to keep reading.  Art is a medium that I feel takes a long time to create, and sometimes only a second to appraise; getting your original compositions listened to on the internet can feel like an immense chore.  Like every medium, writing is captivating when done well, regardless of genre - it just seems that keeping a blog, for me, is so very much easier than creating a drawing or a song would be for someone of a similarly artistic bent.

Having said that, it's not as if I'm crafting a short story to write here.  That would be this post.  If I were writing short story every day, apart from being disappointed that each of them were instantly unpublishable, I'd probably go crazy.  So there are greater and lesser extents of commitment, like sketching rather than full-scale painting, or creating a loop instead of a full-length song.

Coincidentally, I'm still on my quest to gain copies of Exotique and Expose - the most recent issue of Expose is about to be released, which is exciting.  I do become jealous, sometimes, of how art and music are short-term mediums, in that the audience can look, or listen, and feel immediately.  One of my favourite images from the before-times was coloured by Min Rho :


Every time I see it, it creates this visceral longing and sadness within me.  Writing doesn't allow you to do that.

What writing does allow you to do, however, is bring readers to that realisation slowly.  You can spend 80,000 words building to a climax, and it will be worthwhile.  Much like playing a game for however many hours can be made relevant by a moving story moment, bringing your reader to that point of emotion is an art and a privilege.  I love art as a medium, but it's never changed my life.  I'm not an artist.  Similarly, I love music, and I have many important songs that remind me of feelings and places and people that I never want to forget, but they've always been an after-effect, so the music reminds me of a feeling I've already had.  I'm not a composer.  But writing, ah!  Writing!  It has changed my life.  It has allowed me to dream of places unknown, of people I wanted to meet or had met, and dreams I longed to chase that would never come to pass.  In the realm of words, there are infinite possibilities, and if the journey is longer, then it is all the sweeter.

So I think we, as writers, are really pretty darn lucky.  We can shape the world around us, create or change events to our whim, have entire societies live and die in our imaginations, and somehow convince people to pay us for the syllables and letters we use every day in things like shopping lists, emails and thank-you notes.  If that isn't magic, I don't know what is.

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