Apr 22, 2012

What can they teach you about writing? Anniversary Edition

Calvin knows it: there's treasure everywhere. Will you know it when you see it?
Part One
A Confession

I am going to share two words with you.

Two special words.

Two special words that have helped me fight every single battle in my life:


About a year ago, I started this series, What can they teach you about writing. I had no idea what I was getting into. I learned so much more than I expected. I guess the old adage is true -- if you want to learn something, teach it.

At times, writing these pieces forced me to battle my own will. And you know what? That’s great. Willpower and self-control are muscles. Use them or lose them. Writing about the death of my five-year-old cat, a darling creature if there ever was one… That came with a hefty emotional price tag, which I would gladly pay again. And again.

I made mistakes. Had to accept I wasn’t perfect, was no master of the written word -- no Borges or Beckett, me -- but shipping out these articles, week after week, taught me to shrug it off and keep working.

And what a relief it is, how liberating to accept that you will never be one of your idols. And what a coincidence that at the very moment I type out these words, a Black Pyramid song is playing in the background. “Illumination.”

It begins thusly:
Open your eyes
Embrace illumination
Cast off the night in your soul  

And so runs the chorus:
Wouldn’t you like to take my place
Wouldn’t you like to have my face
Wouldn’t you love to see me fall to Earth
Maybe you’ll get to have your chance
Maybe you’ll daze me with your glance
Maybe we’ll find out what we’re finally worth

To me, “Illumination” is a warning: Build on someone else’s work if you must, but never try to follow in their footsteps. The way they went is not for you. If you can’t see the path ahead of you right now, maybe you’re just… waiting for dawn.

Here’s the song. Don’t click on the play button unless you enjoy raw-sounding doom metal.

Without further ado, these are the pieces that helped me cast off the night --

The first I was moderately proud of.
I don’t know what other people are doing, said Monk, I just know about me.

Back then, I wrote:
“As a writer, technique is playing the words every which way. Emotion is your chromatic scale. The notes are there -- all you have to do is write the melody. Technique is how well you express the soul in your work.

An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have. 

“A student I once had told me, ‘art is useless.’ He believed he was a communist (and a Trotskyite, no less). Up to a point, he was right. Art is useless. You can’t eat it, wear it or plow a field with it. However…”

If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.

The only guy whose brain can boast a Wikipedia article all its own.

I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.

“All of us who brave the choppy waters of imagination have a common foe: I call it the Consensus. Yes, you know what I’m talking about: that vast, idiotic force that would make drones of us all. The truth is, human beings aren’t termites or viruses. (…) The Consensus would like to…”

I think all phases of one’s career are serious if you take it seriously no matter if you are doing high profile dramatic pieces or not.

Halfway through this one, I realized -- “There are no bad clowns: they quit.

the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Lisbeth’s surname, Salander, is only a syllable away from salamander. As described by Paracelsus, the salamander was the elemental spirit of fire. It’s no coincidence, on the symbolic plane, that Lisbeth Salander forges a relationship with journo Mikael Blomkvist. Michael is… [You’ll have to read the rest to find out.]

When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else.

What could I possibly add to that?

[S]how someone that they’re missing a piece of their favorite puzzle, hint that you may be in possession of said piece and they will follow you to the ends of the Earth.

I only wrote this because I see this principle at work in every successful TV show.

illustration by the magnificent Alex Ross.

On Batman

He defies the old tyranny of fear and darkness[.]

"Batman is not about justice," I claimed. "Never was. Batman is about restoring a broken self by dealing pain to others. Batman will never stop fighting because the trauma of witnessing his parents’ death has, in fact, rewritten his personality. The wound runs too deep."

(Who also defied the old tyranny of fear and darkness)

As a young boy, Carl would speak of dinosaurs and distant stars. Neither parents nor friends could explain what a star was, so he took his first trips to the library at the age of five – all by himself – in order to find out.

And that, my friends, was the beginning of a beautiful career.


If you read down all the way and you’re still with me, I’d like to say at this point that you’re one hell of a patient person. Thank you. Seriously, THANK YOU. If you ever wondered why I bother to write these posts week after week… because sometimes ‘fun’ is not as powerful a motivator as it ought to be… well, you can stop wondering now. Isn’t it obvious? This is all for YOU. 

What's next?

Brace yourself - next Wednesday, we take to the skies...

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