I wonder if at some point most professionals stop actively trying to do better and instead begin to count on their daily practice, the simple doing of the thing to improve their skills in the long run.
Sometimes you read a book or a short story that is so well written it hurts, just like how you can get brain freeze from eating too much ice cream too quickly.
One of the distinguishing features of a brilliant piece of writing is the presence of the writer’s voice. The clear sense of their personality, their humor, sorrows and quirks of observation. A brilliant piece of writing isn’t really about the writing, or at least it doesn’t feel that way; it impacts you because you feel as if you have somehow, improbably, connected with another person’s soul and understood a little bit more about life.
How does one achieve this in one’s own writing? Practice, I suppose, so that the words do what you want them to. And living. You have to live a lot. You have to think about what you lived through. You have to, through reflection, grow deeper, wiser, more compassing. You have to become the kind of person you want to be, and that can’t be done by sitting in your chair before your laptop writing novels. You actually have to get up and go outside.
Still, it’s nice to sit with a mug of tea with a book or at your laptop and do some writing. It doesn’t all have to be Hemingway with a rifle and big game hunting.
I read the first few pages of a novel entitled “The Killing Floor” yesterday, and it literally read like this:
“I sat down at the counter. Inside the bar were three people but they were only civilians and had probably lived here their whole lives. There was a row of bottles lined up against the wall behind the bar. I heard a noise from outside. It was a loud noise. I didn’t turn but instead considered my glass. It was half full. I frowned because I knew I had run out of time to finish it. I picked up my glass just as the door smashed open. The other three began to yell. I didn’t turn around. I wanted to finish my drink before the pandas arrested me.”
Which kind of works? But also feels jarring. I don’t know.
Then I read a short story by Ann Patchett called “The Mercies” which I won’t try to reproduce here but which brought literal tears to my eyes and at one point made me laugh and sit up and look out the window.
I don’t know. Words are funny things. We think it’s all about the words, how we wield them, but sometimes forget that it’s not the wielding but the wielder, it’s the person, the writer, and the words are but a window on the page through which we try to get a glimpse of that strange and rare beast, the author.