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Friday, November 10, 2006



The other day I saw Eva Cassidy singing on television. Well, I was mesmerised, a new CD is mine, inseparable my iPod and ears. It also reminded me of something I've thought for a long time: the best art is produced by people who love the form.

That sounds obvious, but it's not always there. For example, it's perfectly possible that a singer sings for the love of performance. They may sing and perform well, but it's not the same thing as hearing a singer who sings for the love of music. There was something about Eva Cassidy: the egoless concentration, the ... oh, it's hard to describe. I remember someone telling me at school that anything done with total concentration was an act of prayer; she made me think of that.

Something else: it was like she was singing a duet with the music, like she was listening to something I couldn't hear and talking back to it, and you could sort of understand what it was by hearing her replies. I suspect it's from performances like that that people got the idea of the Muse, the grace that whispers in your ear. Her whole performance was just lit with sheer love of music. Ella Fitzgerald does that in a different style: every note she sings rings with joyous love of music, music in itself.

Which raises the question of writing, of course. If the Muse did just whisper in my ear, it would make my life a whole lot easier: I could just take dictation. But in another way, there's something in the idea. Different writers have entirely different methods - any posts on yours welcome. I kind of have a zone. If I'm having a bad day, I can't get into it, I have to lay the words out like bricks, hoisting them to and fro and dithering about what to place where. If I'm having a good day, words just unfold in sequence, I get my mood on, things flow. And I have to be sort of enchanted. There's no way to do it except to try to seduce myself with a sentence, a tricky business - but in Classical terms, you could say I try to raise my Muse, and if I can't find the right incantation, the right sentence to spark it off, the Muse doesn't visit that day.

(Interesting side-note: proof-reading is never, never, never fun, but for some reason, even if there isn't much difference in writing quality, the sections of prose I've written when in the Muse-Zone are never quite as revolting on seventh rereading. The bits I wrote out of the zone become absolutely loathsome; the zonies, merely repetitious. Not sure why, except possibly a little trace of zone still lingers on them in my mind and improves my mood when reading them.)

And how do people love the form when they're writers? There are different aspects. One of the things I keep saying when people call me science-fiction, crime, literary or whatever is that I'm not a fan of a particular genre, I just love books. I love language, but I particularly love prose - I like poetry, but I seldom read it, certainly not as much as I read prose; there are a few favourite poets on my shelves, but they're vastly outnumbered by novelists. There's language, and there's storytelling, and different authors can love them in different proportions, though all my favourites love both. And possibly other things as well, who knows? I think some people love elements in a form that other people can't see - I'm sure it's the case with music, for example, otherwise I'd enjoy a wider variety of stuff than I do.

So, love for the form, Muses, writing zones ... I'm sure there was a better-reasoned post on these subjects somewhere, probably tending to a definitive theory of art, but the telephone woke me up too early this morning. What do you think about any and all of this?

I'm doing NaMoWriMo right now because I've never finished anything, and I want to. It's hard not to have fun when I'm writing too fast for the inner critic to catch up.

I always thought that when I became A Writer, these stories would form in my head, and I'd write them down (sort of like a whispering muse). I thought the idea of making stuff up was tawdry and gauche. But making stuff up is FUN!!! And that's what I have to do because I don't get the whole stories. I get partials and snapshots and then have to fill in the rest of the pages with something. Bull, mostly--heheh. So far anyway, but that's what NaMoWriMo is for...
Making stuff up is what it's all about! It would be very labour-saving if stories formed without any contribution from the author, alas, but they're more like an enginelesss car, in my experience. Sometimes you're on a downwards slope and everything flows smoothly, and sometimes, well, you just have to get behind it and push. And the willingness to push is what makes a writer. You're not a writer because it's easy for you, you're a writer because you persist when it's hard.

I think the idea of being A Writer is a very slippery one, though; if you're writing stuff down, however easy or hard it is, what else to call yourself? Though I'd never call myself a writer when people asked me what I did; I'd always say my day job. Now I have to say I'm a writer as I'm doing it full time, and it's bloody embarrassing.
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