Monday Motivation: Writing is nice work, if you can get it
I’m sitting in Campo San Polo in the coolth of the umbrellas of the Bar Cico, surrounded by a sprinkling of patrons. An elderly Italian man wrinkled and weather-worn sporting a fine set of long yellowing teeth, smokes a Camel at a corner table. His smoke wafts across to me and I tell myself this is Italy, where smoking is tolerated, so I tolerate it. His companion is a few years younger, in a spruce blue and white striped lounge shirt, gesticulating with the still smoking stub of a cigar. They are speaking in what I take to be the rather guttural patois of Venice.
It’s just past ten in the morning, and the square is filling up as tourists (well, of course, I’m one myself, but since this is our fourth September here in a row, I’m just starting to feel more like, if not a native, then a regular) filter in from the Rialto.
There are thin wisps of cloud across one quadrant of the sky, but for the rest it is that pure, undiluted blue we recognise from Caneletto.
I’m sitting here, waiting for my Americano (my apologies, but cappuccinos in Italy are weak, luke-warm versions of what I consider the real thing) and thinking about the week ahead.
This is, as I say, our fourth September visit to Venice, where we hold writing retreats in the Palazzo Albrizzi, a fine 17th-century merchant’s palace still owned, uniquely, by the family that built it. We have ten writers attending this year, most of whom come with a very specific writing project in mind. For those whose intentions are vaguer, we hope to tease out an idea – or a series of ideas – that they can explore.
What’s really exciting from our point of view is the sense we have that we have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen, in terms of this anthology of stories, over the next seven days. Life is more, but of course not totally, predictable – but stories aren’t, or at least, shouldn’t be.
In life, we’re bound to each passing minute – in creative writing, whether fiction, non-fiction or film – we’re free to make mighty leaps across days, weeks, years, even eons.
In life we’re subject to the sort of random events that prompted Kurt Vonnegut to frame his phlegmatic lament: “So it goes,” he wrote with a shrug.
In fiction, our characters trace carefully crafted trajectories that we design with very specific objectives in mind: to teach them… humility, acceptance, defiance, courage, love, surrender. Or, more simply, and if we’re less morally inclined, we devise a series of incidents that are selected purely for their entertainment value – to our readers.
In life, we might sometimes feel there’s no point to existence – in fiction, there’s always point. (Unless you’re a prisoner, I suppose, of one of Kafka’s fictions, like his beetle in Metamorphosis.)
To put it another way, in life we’re not always certain what we want, and so often get distracted by the messages advertisers (or parents, or well-meaning friends) beam at us, but in fiction our characters always know what they want – although part of our purpose as their creators might sometimes be to demonstrate that what they think they want is not necessarily what’s good for them.
So what lies ahead of us are ten different paths, each bristling with options and possibilities, each full of purpose and meaning, each promising profound satisfaction.
It’s nice work if you can get it.
Read Jo-Anne’s latest blog: ‘Writing Secrets: We don’t always need the where and when‘
Cape Town Creative Writing Course: Starts 8 October
Online Creative Writing Course: Starts 8 October
Stow Story Weekend: 21 – 23 September
Power of Writing: Introductory creative writing course. Start today, or anytime
Click here for a full list of our 2018 courses