Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When art makes us cry

Death of little Nell I had a professor at university, a dapper academic who taught a Restoration Literature class.  We studied Goldsmith and Sterne and Richardson.  Plays, novels. Tristram Shandy,  She Stoops to Conquer, Robinson Crusoe.  Dr. Pullen was a decent lecturer, but he didn’t say anything that really caught my attention…

Until the day he confessed that he hated reading one of those famous Victorians, Charles Dickens. 

“I hate Dickens because he’s the only author who can make me cry,” he announced.

I tried to picture this poised little man weeping over the death of Little Nell, and the famous quip of Oscar Wilde’s came to mind:  One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without dissolving into tears...of laughter. Dickens had never plucked at my heartstrings either, but Dr. Pullen? What was going on here?

Dr. Pullen didn’t hate Dickens, I finally realized. Quite the contrary: he loved this writer who could move him to tears.

I too love writers – and painters, and playwrights, and composers – who can make me cry.  Vaughan-Williams’ The Lark Ascending comes to mind.  Alex Colville’s Moon and Cow.  Certain passages of Shakespeare and, an all-time favourite,  J.D. Salinger’s The Laughing Man.

But the art that moves me may very easily be dismissed by someone else’s inner Oscar Wilde.

I believe it’s an equation: one part art plus one part personal experience equals an individual, visceral, emotional response. Some readers might complain about sentimentality (think Little Women and Dickens and even Anne of Green Gables), but I think every equation is as different as every reader.

So forget Oscar Wilde, you writers out there.  If you can make your readers cry, you’ve forged the ultimate connection, and that’s something to celebrate.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Waiting patiently for inspiration to strike?

Writer's nook by omoo

  My favourite quotation is this one from Mary Heaton Vorse: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”  Nothing could be more true!

I’m currently surrounded by inspired writers – and for some reason, none of their enthusiasm is wearing off on me.  What’s up with that?

A month ago I met a group of young writers with whom I’m going to be working this year, and they amazed me with their energy and creativity.  I’m eagerly waiting to read some samples of the projects they’re working on in preparation for our first coaching session next month.

My writing group (six women who meet at a downtown coffee shop once a month to hash out the trials and triumphs of the writing life) is following a “Done” campaign.  As soon as we finish our writing quota for the day, we fire off a group email with “Done” in the subject line.  It’s like a mini-deadline that helps to keep us on track and, we hope, inspired. I haven’t sent one “Done” yet.

One of these writing friends has also signed up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and is dutifully churning out her daily quota along with blogs and tweets galore.

And to top it off, my own 13-year-old son has signed on for the NaNoWriMo for Young Writers and is right on track for his ultimate word count and a finished novel.

So what’s my problem?  I have a job that sucks the energy out of me and fills most of the hours of my day.  I’m tired, and I’m burdened with a To Do list that seems to go on forever.  Writing?  Inspiration?  Forget it.  When I have a few spare minutes, I’m hitting the couch for a few minutes of mindless TV until inspiration strikes.

Not so fast! Here’s another of my favourite quotations:  “Ten percent inspiration, ninety percent perspiration.” 

In other words, don’t hide behind that “waiting for the right time” or “waiting for a good idea” excuse.  Write!  Right now!  Inspiration is just a tiny part of the equation.  Tickle that vague creative idea till it squeaks. Make the effort.  Just apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and get writing.

So in among the “Done’s” and the reports on NaNoWriMo and the writing samples from my young writers, there’s no excuse for me to wait any longer.  Inspired or not, I’m a writer, and I’m writing!

(Photo: omoo on a Creative Commons licence)