by Karen Wills
Habit and practice sharpen gifts; the necessity of toil grows less disgusting, grows even welcome, in the course of years; a small taste (if it be only genuine) waxes with indulgence into an exclusive passion.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
I suspect that even before love of language, love of stories marks the beginning of most evolving writers. That’s how it began for me. Love of listening to my dad tell made up stories expanded into reading other people’s fiction. In third grade, I took the next step, writing my first story. The reviews (from Mom and Dad) were sensational.
Years later, I had to face the “necessity of toil” business and critics not biased in my favor. I had to recognize that plot is essential, characters have to be motivated, and the right language is essential, too. Combine the three and you’ve hit gold. But, oh, those years of false strikes and mines that didn’t pan out as I’d hoped. The mother lode has elusive ways. I’ve loved the search, but learning the craft if you’re not blessed with genius—think Shakespeare—can be an awful grind at times.
I recently listened to Leslie M.M. Blumes’, Everybody Behaves Badly, about Ernest Hemingway’s efforts to hone his unique, zeitgeist-perfect voice in the 1920’s. He found it in spare prose enhanced by artful repetition and cadence. It’s also about how he labored to produce stories and novels that captured and held his readers. Such mastery didn’t come overnight. In the end, he loved writing with such passion that when he faced what looked like permanent writer’s block, he killed himself.
And then there’s language. I also read Edward Abbey’s, The Monkey Wrench Gang. He uses what I call ‘the old razzle dazzle’ with words. Here’s an example:
The evening gave way to night, a dense violet solution of starlight and darkness mixed with energy…
Writing is still work, but I’ve reached the “indulgence into an exclusive passion” stage at last.
A friend joked that I don’t do anything except read, write, and watch movies. At least in winter, she’s close to right. When I write, the world outside my story drops away. I told that to someone who responded, “Oh, that’s how you meditate.” Maybe. All I know is the combining of plot, character, and language has waxed into indulgence and passion.
How fortunate I am.