The sacred practice of writing is what matters, not the outcome
So jet lag very much came and bit me on the bum last night, and I realised too late that sleeping in until 12pm earlier that day was a mistake and that I would not be able to rise at 545am this morning for my sacred practice of writing. Anyway, so I was awake from 12am to 430am but this did at least allow me to finish Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, recommended by a friend who was always “snooty” about self-help but quite enjoyed this book (not everyone has).
I’m writing to you to blow away the cobwebs and also as a way to enter back into the craft and sacred practice of writing every day, something Gilbert did every day, give or take, during her twenties. I know we’ve been through this before but I’m reminding myself — it is okay to do this; for this writing each morning (although it’s nearly midday already) to burn a/way through first thoughts into something else, perhaps, into a project. And that’s okay. I know how to write although I am not, again, so clear about the practice. Perhaps these missives to you, Franz, are practice? It is creative. It meets my own definition of creative:
“to find wonder through knowledge via reading and to connect many ideas together in synthesis and so create something new through writing”
Okay, that’s a bit wordy. We can work on that. But the point is, why worry? If this work meets that definition, why worry about anything else? As Gilbert says, play lightly. Do I worry because this is not fiction? And yet Gilbert writes both — fiction and non-fiction, and both are ways for her to follow her curiosity into wonder. The results are not hers (or mine, or yours) to control. (By the way, I’ve not read her massive best-seller Eat, Pray, Love, which was described as rather plain and difficult to read by many critics, although it sold over 12m copies.) Do I worry because here in this morning practice I am not forging new fictional scenes from my imagination? Is that the only form of creative living I will allow myself? Isn’t that rather restrictive? And also a restrictive definition, because, you see, I am fictionalising, aren’t I? I am writing this dialogue (well, monologue, mostly) to Franz Kafka — you — in epistolary form and liberating my whole mental carnival of thoughts into a form that is in essence about the wonder of reading and writing, in a very playful way. What is not creative about this?
Art is not sacred, says Gilbert. Rather,
what is sacred is the time you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life. The more lightly you can pass that time, the brighter your existence becomes.
Regardless of the criticisms of this book; and regardless of what may become of these pieces I write to you each morning, the important thing is to be sitting here writing; what becomes of them, that is, regardless of what becomes of these pieces “out there”, already “in here” (that is, in my private life of writing), these little forms are expanding my ability to imagine, my practice and habit of sitting down to write, my craft of synthesising ideas and forms into some means of address to a reader (you), my lightness and play. Because these letters and this project were all about play. My playing with my reading and my writing. And getting better at this — not for anyone out there, but for the people in here (in my private life: me, you, my soul, even my ego, the better half of my ego). As one of the stories Gilbert relates to us, of the musician criticised by a sister that she, the musician, may get nothing out of her art, the musician replies, “If you can’t see what I’m already getting out of this, then I won’t be able to explain it to you.”
That is, my practice is done for fun. For play. For learning. For wonder. I read what I do and I then write some forms of letters and synthesis to you, Franz, because I like doing so. That’s all.
What they certainly do is allow me to practice what I see as central to my own form of creative living. This adage of “connect and create” that I seem to have identified as my own; as I synthesise my thoughts with the thoughts of others’ (that I learn through reading their writing, studying their work, content and form) and turn this into something with flow, rhythm, literary feeling. Create something new from the raw material. Make things. They may not be fiction in the strictest of senses, but who needs or wants such strictures? They are creative.
On the front cover of the book I bought at the same time as Gilbert’s Big Magic, László Krasznahorkai‘s Seiobo There Below, there’s a sentence quoted from a reviewer that says:
The intensity of his commitment to the art of fiction is indisputable…
(The quote is actually from Hari Kunzru, someone I don’t have a lot of time for since his comments about teaching creative writing, or more precisely, his comments about his students.) And I thought what about me? What would I say about myself? Or perhaps what I’d like others to say about me?
The intensity of his commitment to the art of ____________ is indisputable…
The art of creative living? The art of writing, perhaps. The art of synthesis? I am not solely a fiction writer. Perhaps Krasznahorkai (also published by one of my favourite publishers, New Directions) is not only a fiction writer, but nevertheless his commitment to the art of fiction is intense and indisputable. Does it matter if he writes only one form, or if he writes more than one? The point is, he commits to his fiction. It might not be exclusively, but it is enough. And he probably does so, having read his books, with wonder. As Gilbert says, if you have a choice between reward vs. wonder, take wonder every time. This feeds the soul. Reward feeds the ego. And the soul is what is here to live. The soul is what you grow inside the container of your ego. Best not to let it wither away by only ever seeking reward and building a bigger pot for a seed that will never flower.
So, as Gilbert also suggests, say it out loud (or write it). I enjoy my creativity. And
The intensity of his commitment to the art of making sense through writing will soon be indisputable…