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i'm definitely someone altogether different

about a hundred years ago, i remember having a partner who told me that, rather than writing the sort of ambiance-oriented crap [he didn't say crap, i'm saying it] that i was naturally driven to write, i should just compose something like the harry potter books. this wasn't out of any sense of challenging me to do new things but because of the desperate hope that my love of writing could be parlayed into something profitable.

my reaction at the time was "i just can't". and that was honestly how i felt because i didn't believe that that kind of story was in me. for the record, i still don't think that anything like the potter-hogwarts universe is in me. i'm not a fan of fantasy literature generally speaking and i feel like there's a richer experience to be examined in looking at our experience as regular humans being part of the rational, limited, everyday world and at the same time being able to feel connected to something that, for lack of a better term, is magical or spiritual. this is why i write a lot about things that i get from my dreams. i wake up with that sense that what i've seen there, things that have no connection to consensus reality, is somehow more real than what i go through every day. i mean, if i feel it more deeply, if it elicits more powerful emotions [good and bad], if i can remember it more vividly than i can remember the "real" things that happen to me in the course of the week, if i feel more connected to certain people as a result... how is it a less meaningful level of experience?

and i am a literature snob. i did an honours-level [read: extra year and a few "advanced" classes] bachelor's degree in english literature. many of my all-time favourite books, hell, the book that i would single out as my number one favourite [any guesses?], are ones that i encountered during that time. what i was reading wasn't any kind of popular or genre fiction; it was "serious" literature and as a result, i've always maintained a distance between the two. that doesn't make me right, although i do believe that the "lighter" works of fiction that i've read haven't had the weight of those that truly made an impression. when i think of moments where books have made me pause and gasp at their power, i think of the shocking and inscrutable death of svidrigailov in crime and punishment and not the reveal of lisbeth salander's history in the the girl who played with fire.

so part of my negative reaction to being told i should just write something like the harry potter series was a rejection of genre fiction in general. i'm not like that. i don't think in those terms.

flash forward to years later and dom talked to me about his experience writing [screenplays] in genres that he hated. it was a test of creativity that came from a very different approach. rather than starting from a point of simply not being able to bring himself to write certain things or assuming he couldn't because he found them distasteful or irrelevant, he made himself to do something in spite of his reflexive resistance. the difference is an extremely important one: where i formed a statement ["i can't], he formed a question [can i?].

and rather than saying i should write the next billion-dollar franchise, he presented me with a different proposition: challenging myself to do something uncomfortable. i can put on whatever airs i want about my writing being difficult to define or cryptic, but can i marshall my creative forces in the service of something very different?

i find that this gets to the heart of the writer's [or, if i want to be truly pretentious, the artist's] conundrum: is creative inspiration something that simply strikes like lightning? or is it something that can be cultivated like a novel species of orchid? i have preached the gospel of the latter but the truth is that until i truly push my boundaries, i'm being a bit of a hypocrite. because if i can control my creative impulses, i should be able to channel them into doing something i wouldn't normally do. that doesn't mean that i should be writing something i hate, although that is an interesting exercise, but something that just takes what i have in my head and points it in another direction. i'm in charge, right? i should be able to do that.

the difference between capturing inspiration and forging [not forcing] it into a new shape versus waiting for it to come to me in a perfect form is the difference between being an artisan and being a dilettante. or, if you want to use stronger terms, being active and being passive. being an "artist" is something that hovers above that continuum. stieg larsson may be less of an artist than dostoevsky because his writing is concrete, simple and without pretension to loftier themes but he is not less of an author. the fact is that the literary world is great enough for both to exist without having to be in competition.

all this is a way for me to tell you that my recent weeks of silence haven't been about having nothing to say but rather about having something to say that isn't yet ready for public consumption. it's about trying something different and more restricted than usual, about forcing myself to conform to the norms of an established style rather than simply letting my creativity do what it wants. because if i'm not the one in charge of those impulses, then i'm just an occasional vessel for ideas that could come from aliens for all i know. bending those impulses to will is the power of the magician and not the possessed.

thanks dom. 

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