Monday Writing Motivation: Loss of innocence
I’ve often celebrated the many gifts writing bestows on the writer: the sharpened eye, the joy that springs from creating something from nothing, the pleasures of devising the felicitous phrase, and so on and so forth.
But I haven’t considered the costs of being a writer. And that’s what I intend to turn a spotlight on today. What do we give up after we become serious about writing? After we’ve learned, by trial and error, or by the close study of how other, more accomplished or experienced writers, have achieved the effects necessary to pull the wool over our readers’ eyes?
Think of a stage magician: by sleight of hand, by smoke and mirrors, he will deceive us into believing the impossible possible. We’ve all seen this, or something like it: A woman in spangles and sequins climbs into a coffin-sized box suspended over the backs of two upright chairs. There is nothing beneath the box. All is open for inspection, and indeed, someone from the audience, chosen at random, is invited to inspect the box. All is as it seems.
The magician then cuts the box in half.
And from a cupboard at the back of the stage, the woman emerges, quite whole.
It is inexplicable. It is magical. It is mysterious. It violates the laws both of physics and common sense.
We know there is an explanation for it. There must have been a mirror… He must have contrived the woman’s escape from the box when he cunningly distracted us with some stage craft… There must have been something…
But we don’t want to know the explanation because it will lift the veil on the mysteries and forever inoculate us against the sort of wonder that magic inspires.
The more experienced we become as writers, the more we master the tricks and stratagems of the trade, the more we understand the techniques of persuading readers to believe the beautiful lies we tell them, the less mysterious the artifice of fiction becomes.
Richard Russo, a distinguished writer with a string of excellent novels under his belt, put it well: “When you become a writer you inevitably lose your innocence as a reader.”
And yet, it’s also true that stage magicians study each other’s tricks with great interest. They know (for the most part) how Merlin the Magician managed to avoid committing bloody murder by sawing his assistant in half. But they’re interested in precisely how he fooled his audience. What specific techniques did he employ? What innovative distractions did he devise?
They’re fascinated by the artfulness of their fellow magicians. This fascination is fueled by envy, by the desire to learn and imitate, and by simple admiration.
And in parallel fashion, while the magic of the art might be diluted by our understanding of technique, we can still enjoy the contemplation of the gifts of other writers and hope to emulate their skill.