And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph.
T.S.Eliot, Little Gidding
Something I learned about writing this week is that when I write what I love to write, it becomes a much greater and more beautiful thing to do. (Whether it is more beautiful to read is another matter!)
I am – I have come to know – the sort of writer who can spend hours over one sentence, putting everything into balance. T.S. Eliot’s notion of the right sentence is precisely what I am striving for in my writing. It is not a case of writing what you know, or writing from your wildest imagination, but of writing exactly what you mean, or as close as you can get. That is authenticity.
I can write very fast when I want to. I wrote my first, failed attempt at a novel very fast indeed, in a matter of weeks. I loved writing that way – I felt so productive! It was useful, too. I needed to know what it felt like to write that number of words, to write a story that big. But it was a terrible attempt at a novel. Terrible. Awful. It had no soul, and it didn’t mean anything, or the meaning was so obscured by the dreadful writing that my courage failed at the thought of trying to fix it. So I know that, for me, it takes time and craft to find what’s true and worthwhile in my writing. By craft, I mean only what is quoted above: the balancing of words and sentences and scenes and chapters, one against another, until they are right. For me, that is a slow, careful, thoughtful, insanely difficult business.
Instead of trying to write more! and write faster! I am trying to write less, and write more slowly. It is a strange feeling to be making myself slow down at a time when I feel terribly unproductive. All other writers in the world appear to work faster, harder, and more successfully than I do. But I have learned that comparing myself to other writers is a surefire way to mess my head up. I eschew all writing advice, all rules, all guidelines. The only knowledge you can bank on is that which you learn through your own experience. That which you know to be true, because it is written in blood, tears, scars, years – that is truth you can depend on. No one can help you with that.