Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Writing on the Road

I find it difficult to write while on the road. I keep a travel journal full of rough notes, but rarely embark on any fiction, not even the most preliminary of preliminary drafts. I decided that I’d try to break that pattern on this trip since it’s a fairly long one during which I’m mostly settled in one place. I brought a couple of reference books that I thought might assist in the endeavour: E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel and John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, the former to help me think about the structure of my novel-in-progress, and the latter with the idea that the exercises in the back might jumpstart some new pieces.

Alas I got distracted by my new book purchases. Not that there’s any shortage of inspiration there—the RLS biography and the collections of his essays that I sought out thereafter have proved particularly thought provoking. But two-thirds of the way through my trip, I’m only now cracking the Gardner open.

It’s been at least fifteen years since I read The Art of Fiction and I didn’t think it had made a particularly strong impression on me. I was surprised to find that I had read it very carefully indeed on my previous go through—lots of underlining and margin notes. Perhaps Gardner’s advice is more thoroughly imprinted on my writerly psyche than I’d realized. I was immediately struck by this passage on the first page:

… on the whole the search for aesthetic absolutes is a misapplication of the writer’s energy. When one begins to be persuaded that certain things must never be done in fiction and certain other things must always be done, one has entered the first stage of aesthetic arthritis, the disease that ends up in pedantic rigidity and the atrophy of intuition. Every true work of art—and thus every attempt at art (since things meant to be similar must submit to one standard)—must be judged primarily, though not exclusively, by its own laws. If it has no laws, or if its laws are incoherent, it fails—usually—on that basis.

An eminently sensible point that makes me think I'm going to enjoy revisiting this book regardless of whether it gets me writing on this trip.

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