Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Poetry, Art, Life and Creativity

"Poetry is the mysterious wing that glides at will in the whole world of the soul, in that infinite sphere, one part of which is colors, another sounds, another movements, another judgments, and so forth, all vibrating simultaneously, according to certain laws, that a vibration in one region communicates itself to another region. The privilege of art is to feel and express these relationships, which are deeply hidden in the very unity of life. From these vibrations of the diverse regions of the soul an accord results, and this accord is life; and when this accord is expressed, it constitutes art." ~ Henri Dorra

This quote was found by a wonderful person who goes by the name, XineAnn, posted at Ars Poetica and Other Ecstacies. I encourage you to visit her many links and her sites for art and illustration, Art Passions, and Artsy Craftsy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Art Arises

"Art arises from a spiritual longing that all people share: to make our mark on the world and to spend our life energy in a work that rises above the mundane, adding grace to existence. We respond to the light of the world around us by giving expression to our own inner light, and when the two are on the same wavelength, the world seems more brilliant and finely focused." ~ Gary Kowalski

~ Gary Kowalski from The Souls of Animals (New World Library, c1991, 1999)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Quote - Confronting the Self

"Writing is an act of hope. It means carving order out of chaos, of challenging one’s own beliefs and assumptions, of facing the world with eyes and heart wide open. Through writing we declare a personal identity amid faceless anonymity. We find purpose and beauty and meaning even when the rational mind argues that none of these exist. Writing therefore, is also an act of courage. How much easier is it to lead an unexamined life than to confront yourself on the page?"

Jack Heffron (from “The Writer’s Idea Book”)

I've never read this book, but I recently came across this quote, and I like it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dorothea Brande's Classic Thoughts About Writing

The following quotes are from Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer (Tarcher/Putnam, 1981), a classic book on writing, first published in 1938.

There are chapters where I argue with Brande's tone, but I'm finding many of her ideas to be extremely useful. Here's a choice quote, from her chapter, titled: The Source of Originality:

"It is well to understand as early as possible in one's writing life that there is just one contribution which every one of us can make: we can give into the common pool of experience some comprehension of the world as it looks to each of us. There is one sense in which everyone is unique. No one else was born of your parents, at just that time of just that country's history; no one underwent just your experiences, reached just your conclusions, or faces the world with the exact set of ideas that you must have. If you can come to such friendly terms with yourself that you are able and willing to say precisely what you think of any given situation or character, if you can tell a story as it can appear only to you of all the people on earth, you will inevitably have a piece of work which is original." ~ Dorothea Brande

Here are two more choice quotes from the same chapter, under the sub-heading, Honesty, the Source of Originality:

"If you can discover what you like, if you can discover what you truly believe about most of the major matters of life, you will be able to write a story which is honest and original and unique." ~ Dorothea Brande

"... We all continue to grow... In order to write at all we must write on the basis of our present beliefs. If you are unwilling to write from the honest, though perhaps far from final, point of view that represents your present state, you may come to your deathbed with your contribution to the world still unmade..." ~ Dorothea Brande

And this, under the sub-heading, Trust Yourself:

"... It is not the putting of your character in the central position of a drama which has never been dreamed of before that will make your story irresistible... How your hero meets his dilemma, what you think of the impasse-- those are the things which make your story truly your own; and it is your own individual character, unmistakably showing through your work, which will lead you to success or failure. I would almost be willing to go so far as to say that here is no situation which is trite in itself; there are only dull, unimaginative, or uncommunicative authors. No dilemma in which a man can find himself will leave his fellows unmoved if it can be fully presented." ~ Dorothea Brande

I'm adding Dorothea Brande's book to my bibliography of recommended books on the craft of writing fiction.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

On Style and Fantasy: Wisdom for Every Writer

The following quotes are excerpted from the Ursula K. Le Guin's essay: From Elfland to Poughkeepsie (1973), as published in The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction (HarperCollins, c1989).

"A fantasy is a journey. It is a journey into the subconscious mind, just as psychoanalysis is. Like psychoanalysis, it can be dangerous; and it will change you." ~ Ursula K. Le Guin

"Many readers, many critics and most editors speak of style as if it were an ingredient of a book, like the sugar in a cake, or something added on to the book, like the frosting on the cake. The style, of course is the book... In saying that the style is the book, I speak from the reader's point of view. From the writer's point of view, the style is the writer. Style isn't just how you use English when you write. It isn't a mannerism or an affectation... Style is how you as a writer see and speak. It is how you see: your vision, your understanding of the world, your voice." ~ Ursula K. Le Guin

"We learn to see and speak, as children, primarily by imitation. The artist is merely the one who goes on learning after growing up. A good learner will finally learn the hardest thing: how to see one's own world, how to speak one's own words." ~ Ursula K. Le Guin

"Why is style of such fundamental significance in a fantasy?... In fantasy there is nothing but the writer's vision of the world. There is no borrowed reality of history, or current events... There is no comfortable matrix of the commonplace to substitute for the imagination, to provide ready-made emotional response... There is only a construct built in a void, where every joint and seam and nail is exposed... A world where no voice has ever spoken before; where the act of speech is the act of creation. The only voice that speaks there is the creator's voice. And every word counts." ~ Ursula K. Le Guin

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Le Guin's essay collections are a delight of original thinking, revelation, and inspiration that never go out of date. This particular collection is out of print, but it can be obtained through the library or a used book dealer.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fantasy Fiction: The Child and the Shadow

A Wizard of Earthsea
Cover Art

The following quotes are from the essay, The Child and the Shadow (1974), printed in Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, Revised Edition (HarperCollins, c1989) by Ursula K. Le Guin

“The great fantasies, myths and tales are indeed like dreams: they speak from the unconscious to the unconscious, in the language of the unconscious—symbol and archetype. Though they use words, they work the way music does: they short-circuit verbal reasoning, and go straight to the thoughts that lie too deep to utter… They are profoundly meaningful, and usable—practical—in terms of ethics; of insight; of growth.”

~ Ursula K. Le Guin ~ from The Child and the Shadow (1974)

“Most great fantasies contain a very strong, striking moral dialectic, often expressed as a struggle between the Darkness and the Light. But that makes it sound simple, and the ethics of the unconscious—of the dream, the fantasy, the fairy tale—are not simple at all…

In the fairy tale, though there is no “right” and “wrong,” there is a different standard, which is perhaps best called “appropriateness.” Under no conditions can we say that it is morally right and ethically virtuous to push an old lady into a baking oven. But, under the conditions of fairy tale, in the language of the archetypes, we can say with perfect conviction that it may be appropriate to do so. Because, in those terms, the witch is not an old lady, nor is Gretel a little girl. Both are psychic factors, elements of the complex soul. Gretel is the archaic child-soul, innocent, defenseless; the witch is the archaic crone, the possessor and destroyer... And so on and so on. All explanations are partial. The archetype is inexhaustible. And children understand it as fully and surely as adults do—often more fully, because they haven’t got minds stuffed full of the one-sided, shadowless half-truths and conventional moralities of the collective consciousness.

Evil, then, appears in the fairy tale not as something diametrically opposed to good, but as inextricably involved in it, as in the yang-yin symbol. Neither is greater than the other, nor can human reason and virtue separate one from the other and choose between them. The hero or heroine is the one who sees what is appropriate to be done, because he or she sees the whole, which is greater than either evil or good. Their heroism is, in fact, their certainty. They do not act by rules; they simply know the way to go.”

~ Ursula K. Le Guin ~ from The Child and the Shadow (1974)

“Even in merely reading a fairy tale, we must let go our daylight convictions and trust ourselves to be guided by dark figures, in silence; and when we come back, it may be very hard to describe where we have been.”

~ Ursula K. Le Guin ~ from The Child and the Shadow (1974)

"It seems to me that the way you can speak absolutely honestly and factually to children about good and evil is to talk about the self-- the inner, the deepest self. That is something children can and do cope with; indeed, our job in growing up is to become ourselves... We need knowledge; we need self-knowledge. We need to see ourselves and the shadows we cast."

~ Ursula K. Le Guin ~ from The Child and the Shadow (1974)

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As always, for a complete understanding of her ideas and concepts, Le Guin's essays should be read in their entirety. For more quotes and information about Ursula K. Le Guin, her writing and essay collections, and more about writing, please visit my companion site and here, and Ursula K Le Guin's web site.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Carson McCullers: Flowering Dream

Carson McCullers (1917-1967) published her first short story at the age of nineteen, and her first novel, the highly acclaimed The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, at the age of twenty-three. These are excerpts of some of her thoughts on writing, expressed in The Flowering Dream: Notes on Writing, an essay first published by Esquire in 1959:

"The dimensions of a work of art are seldom realized by the author until the work is accomplished. It is like a flowering dream. Ideas grow, budding silently, and there are a thousand illuminations coming day by day as the work progresses. A seed grows in writing as in nature. The seed of the idea is developed by both labor and the unconscious, and the struggle that goes on between them." ~ Carson McCullers

"I understand only particles. I understand the characters, but the novel itself is not in focus. The focus comes at random moments which no one can understand, least of all the author. For me, they usually follow great effort. To me, these illuminations are the grace of labor. All of my work has happened this way. It is at once the hazard and the beauty that a writer has to depend on such illuminations. After months of confusion and labor, when the idea has flowered, the collusion is Divine. It always comes from the subconscious and cannot be controlled." ~ Carson McCullers

"A writer's main asset is intuition; too many facts impede intuition. A writer needs to know so many things, but there are so many things he doesn't need to know -- he needs to know human things even if they aren't "wholesome," as they call it... I become the characters I write. I am so immersed in them that their motives are my own." ~ Carson McCullers

"It is only with imagination and reality that you get to know the thing a novel requires. Reality alone has never been that important to me. A teacher once said that one should write about one's own back yard; and by this, I suppose, she meant one should write about the things that one knows most intimately. But what is more intimate than one's own imagination? The imagination combines memory with insight, combines reality with the dream." ~ Carson McCullers

"The writer by nature of his profession is a dreamer and a conscious dreamer. How, without love and the intuition that comes from love, can a human being place himself in the situation of another human being? He must imagine, and imagination takes humility, love, and great courage. How can you create a character without love and the struggle that goes with love?" ~ Carson McCullers

The quotes are excerpted from the essay, as published in The Mortgaged Heart (Houghton Mifflin, c1971, c2005). To fully appreciate Carson McCullers' ideas, they should be read in their complete context, so I highly recommend locating a copy of this collection at your bookstore or local library.

I find Carson McCullers' ideas particularly compelling, because they validate my own writing methods and my contention that a true writer is an actor, inhabiting the characters she/he creates. I do not plan my work, but I think about it incessantly, imagining each scene as it progresses, breathing and living for each of my characters, letting them tell me what they will do next. Then, of course, comes all the revision, reliving each line, until you feel you've told your character's stories and all about their world in the best way you can, cutting out the repetition, revealing the core.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Thoughts From a Master: Ursula K. Le Guin

"Surely the primary, survival-effective uses of language involve stating alternatives and hypotheses. We don't, we never did, go about making statements of fact to other people, or in our internal discourse with ourselves. We talk about what may be, or what we'd like to do, or what you ought to do, or what might have happened... a continual weaving and restructuring of the remembered and the perceived and the imagined, including a great deal of wishful thinking and a variable quantity of deliberate or non-deliberate fictionalizing, to reassure ourselves or for the pleasure of it..."

"Fiction in particular, narration in general, may be seen not as a disguise or a falsification of what is given but as an active encounter with the environment by means of posing options and alternatives, and an enlargement of present reality by connecting it to the unverifiable past and the unpredictable future... Fiction connects possibilities, using the aesthetic sense of time's directionality defined by Aristotle as plot; and by doing so it is useful to us... Only the imagination can get us out of the bind of the eternal present, inventing or hypothesizing or pretending or discovering a way that reason can then follow into the infinity of options, a clue through the labyrinths of choice, a golden string, the story, leading us to the freedom that is properly human, the freedom open to those whose minds can accept unreality."

~ Ursula K. Le Guin, from Some Thoughts on Narrative, published in her essay collection: Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places (Grove Press, c1989)

Monday, August 17, 2009

I Was Only Dreaming

Kay Nielsen
East of the Sun and West of the Moon