Geographies (noun, academic): the arrangement of features of any complex entity.
Hey, Authocrats! Lucas here. And today I want to talk to you about cultivating your creative self.
Now, you’re not a bad writer. So why is it that you can’t seem to bridge the gap between crisp prose and a proper novel? Put another way; what is it that Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling have that you don’t?
I’m going to be honest with you: some of it is luck. Traditional publishers have their own notion of the readers’ zeitgeist, and they often mistake difference for inadequacy in new creative works. But, there is a lot you can do to increase your chances.
In this blog post, I’m going to tell you three foundational principles that got me from ambitious writer to publishing a story which hit #1 in new literature on Amazon’s best-seller list: not from a marketing perspective, or cheap gimmicks to trick people into buying your work—the real deal, which is to say creating a great novel that is worth people’s time.
This is what makes a good writer.
Learn to Trust your own Judgement
Easier said than done, huh? But it’s absolutely essential: until you have what is (in your mind) a finished project, do not show anyone your work. It is your passion, your love, and it’s for your eyes only. And that’s agonizing. But it’s what you must do.
The seminal philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote that Enlightenment is the courage to rely on your own understanding (Sapere aude; dare to know!) How can it be your vision, your work of art, if the imagination of others is relied on to build it?
The more pressing question which we must answer—What is the novel if not the Complete realization of the novelist’s intent? Coherence and completeness are what mark a novel apart from the layman’s manuscript. What does that mean? It means that the novelist’s story is an elevated symbol, that the question “What are you saying?” has a better answer than a direct plot synopsis, however well-written.
“Coherence and completeness are what mark a novel apart from the layman’s manuscript.”
Cultivate your own Creative Genius
You read that right, and shut up, yes you can.
Our modernized definition of genius is reflective of a society which is peculiarly obsessed with efficiency and productivity, but it wasn’t always that way.
“Historically, genius had more to do with the judicious application of one’s intellect rather than its raw potential.”
The advice you typically hear about how to become a better writer is often sparse and infantilizing. “Read more”, “do your research”, “practice”. Such nebulous activities alone have almost never culminated in the creation of a great work of literature, so get these unhelpful suggestions out of your head.
The critical offerings of a novelist are always two-fold—experience and insight. Through these paradigms, the author regales us of what has made us human in our lives, and in doing so tells us more about ourselves than of what we were presently aware. But when we hear it, the idea resonates with us because it is true.
Therefore, if one is hoping to refine their aesthetic, they must specifically invest in cultivating these two facets of life. Let us dig a little deeper.
“Regarding experience: you can only speak authentically about experiences you yourself have lived. You can’t fake it, you can only adapt it to the setting you’ve created. “
So live more, and find more; working ceaselessly to expand the repertoire of things people can either relate to, or can lose themselves in when they encounter your work and its relationship to the things you know how to speak on.
To cultivate insight, on the other hand, one requires education. Do you want to make commentary on society? Read foundational literature in sociology. The human psyche, philosophy, religion, politics, history, science—it’s all out there. If you don’t know where to start, reach out to your local university’s relevant department or to the university library.
See how it’s been done before
I was cautious about the phrasing of this section, because I think it can very
easily be misinterpreted as a rephrasing of what I was rejecting earlier: the uncritical suggestion that just reading more books will tell you how to write well.
I want to be very clear—that is absolutely not the case. We all know plenty of avid readers who can’t seem to translate that experience into an exciting story.
What I mean to say is that once you have a sense of your own style, what insight you want to convey, and the setting which best expresses this: seek out published works which have tackled similar territory, and read them with this article in mind.
What you will notice are the ways in which they are constantly building towards the things we’ve been reviewing. Harry Potter, for example, is fundamentally a tale about the nature of love and the various modes of
human belonging, as well as the dangers of hate, fear, and alienation.
Everything it does either builds off of this, or into Rowling’s own
specific vision for it.
So if you were to want to tell a story with similar themes, you could read through the HP series and take notes on the ways in which the author accomplishes that task in all its subtleties. Everything plays into this dynamic in a story so masterfully done—setting, characters, backstory, plot.
All of it, from the juxtaposition of the wizarding and muggle worlds to the Hogwarts houses, and really all of Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s relationships throughout the story.
Here’s the big take-away: the mentality of the successful author of literature holds a bold and independent understanding.
They are constantly elevating their knowledge and are conversant in the theories and wisdom relevant to their novel’s message, and they know how to do their homework, specifically targeting the right precedents to research when honing their own craft.
This is the layout of their priorities as they sojourn into the bold horizons of human thought.
Hey, so this has been fun! I do hope that you got something out of it, dear reader!
We’ll speak again soon, I’m sure.
L. Farnsworth Colson