February 22, 2018

Your state of mind while writing is crucial

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, flow in writing, Literary Commentary, Momentum in writing, Tone tagged , , , , at 9:31 am by Rebecca Hein

What’s driving your state of mind while writing? This element of your work process can make or break your short story, novel, or nonfiction narrative. Both War and Peace and Crime and Punishment are excellent illustrations of this phenomenon.

It’s not too hard to guess what Tolstoy was thinking when he wrote War and Peace: “I want to make people think in a new way about history and the nature of power.” His vehicle, an epic historical novel, might have better fulfilled his mission if he’d kept to one genre throughout the story.

However, periodically he jumps out of the plot to deliver an essay on what power really is versus what we think it is, and how historical events prove his point. Thus, we find we’re reading two books in one: a novel about Napoleon’s invasions of Russia, and a string of nonfiction essays.

The novel is okay, though not the best ever written, despite the scope of the story. The essays are fine too, except they belong in a separate book. Possibly they would have more impact if presented in a collection of philosophical essays.

It’s obvious that Tolstoy had to express his convictions, and that the novel, as a literary form, couldn’t contain them. His failure to separate the two genres diluted them both.

Dostoyevsky also had strong convictions. But why would you want to slog through Crime and Punishment to discover the overriding conviction that clearly powered the book? Because the force of that one idea gives the story irresistible forward motion and absolute credibility.


February 8, 2018

Why Crime and Punishment is a Better Novel than War and Peace, and Why Writers Should Care

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, Peak Experiences tagged , , , at 2:52 pm by Rebecca Hein

These days, highly intellectual novels such as Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Tolstoy’s War and Peace aren’t likely to attract many readers. “Too long and boring; too full of unpronounceable Russian names;” these are a few of the objections I’ve heard inside my own head, and from others. However, my reading habits seem to be subject to a stronger force than the legitimate desire of a reader to be entertained.

It’s the same phenomenon I encounter when listening to a wonderful piece of music. That beautiful concerto, sonata, or folk song reaches deep inside me and sets up an enduring memory of the experience and a craving for more.

How did the composer do that to me? I always wonder this, and have wondered the same when a writer pulls me so deeply into his or her story that I forget where I am.

This is another form of the perennial question, What is a great work of art, and how do we recognize it? If you want to write, you need the answer. Both Crime and Punishment and War and Peace can help us learn some of what we want to know.

December 12, 2012

No Artifice, Part Five

Posted in music and writing tagged , at 4:02 pm by Rebecca Hein

Perfect spontaneity in writing can produce such a good first draft that sometimes only a few minor revisions are needed. When you achieve this, you know you’ve entered a new and more productive zone.

But how do you get there? Not with too much time spent directly aiming for your best work.

I learned this in music when I’d spend long hours practicing hard pieces. My attention was totally taken up with getting the notes right and trying to fill the holes in my technique that prevented full mastery of a passage. Thus, no attention was left over for pure enjoyment.

Likewise, in writing, you have to turn away from what’s hardest, at least some of the time. Not out of laziness, but because the easy flow of words, when achieved again and again, sets up a vibration within your being that eventually sounds the deeper chords of creativity.

November 7, 2012

No Artifice, Part One

Posted in Creativity, self-consciousness tagged , , at 1:17 pm by Rebecca Hein

In cello playing, the best results are almost always obtained through a complete lack of control. This assumes that you’ve practiced your pieces to perfection so that your reflexes, when set free, will perform with no restrictions, not even the effort to get the notes right.

Practicing also goes better when you let your muscles work with as little interference as possible from your conscious mind. Thus you’ve created the conditions for natural motions, unimpeded by artifice.

October 24, 2012

Self-Exploitation, Part Six

Posted in Creativity, self-exploitation tagged , at 3:27 am by Rebecca Hein

I’ve always known that artists can’t think about their work in the normal way. So many years are required to achieve proficiency that one really can’t expect on-the-job training.

Nobody paid me to practice the cello and nobody paid me to learn to write. Yet even after I’d reached professional caliber, I still too often settled for absurdly low remuneration.

My work, and the potential beauty in it, has always exerted the stronger pull.

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