Ever read something that makes you want to put down your pen, close the lid on your laptop, and never dare write another word ?
There’s sometimes a moment, a gut reaction, to something so perfectly crafted that makes me despair of ever getting close, when the gap between here and there yawns to a chasm. I had that reaction on reading John Williams’ “Stoner” last year, specifically during one transcendent scene in which the eponymous lead sits alone in his study, lost in the warmth of the room, gazing at the drifting snow outside. A few paragraphs in which nothing happens but written with such poise, such grace, that you inhabit that room and that character utterly. I had it again watching the opening scene of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” last month, a deliberate piece of grandstanding, like the film that blows its entire special effects budget on the first scene or a band that opens their set with their biggest hit. Bold, funny, biting, true, ambitious, fiercely intelligent, and slightly sentimental: typical Sorkin then in many respects. I adore his writing and can only watch in slightly befuddled awe at where it comes from. Does he have that stuff on tap ?
I had it again this morning finishing up Nathan Filer’s “The Shock Of The Fall” which is astonishingly good; blackly funny and deeply sad. There it was, that first thought: I could never do that. He writes the bulk of the novel in a single voice and it is note perfect, a real person come to life across the pages of the book in your hands telling their story of death, and grief, and mental illness. Did I mention that it is also blackly funny ?
I have an idea for a story that deals in death and grief. Right now I feel exactly how I used to feel playing in bands at University, those terrible moments when various guitarists were all together in the same place, casually showing off to each other in their rehearsing: me pretending I was still tuning up so I didn’t have to play anything. I didn’t persist with the guitar, I still play (in so much as knowing a few chords is playing) but I never tried to really improve. I gave up. It didn’t matter to me as much as writing matters to me; it was something I wanted to do but not something that always felt like my best expression of myself. So what if you sometimes feel like the best expression of yourself, stacked up against other work, just isn’t that good ?
As that moment passes – that shit I might as well pack up and go home moment – I allow some different thoughts to take hold. Sometimes, I remember, a sentence comes out that isn’t half bad. That wasn’t one of them by the way. Sometimes I write something that makes me smile, or feels close to capturing what was in my head, or articulates an idea well, or tiptoes its way round being trite or hackneyed or clichéd. Sometimes I don’t serially abuse punctuation. Again, pretty much this whole paragraph doesn’t fall into that category…
Maybe the gap between here and there, between an idea and a book, is in having enough of those fragments – the ones that seem to come unforced, like someone else steals into your mind and places them there – and patching them together coherently, consistently ? You can’t play guitar like that, a single pure note amidst a blizzard of noise (although J Mascis may beg to differ), but perhaps you can write like that. No one ever need hear the noise.
The writing group I joined earlier this year reconvenes next week. I expect I will produce a lot of noise but perhaps, too, some pure notes. Looking forward to it. One sentence at a time.