Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Writer's Compass

December 1st 2012
"The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector. This is the writer's radar."
I think Hemingway has hit on something very important in this quote. It's what Nietzsche referred to has having "psychological antennae." Someone once descirbed writing a novel as moving through a deep forest at night with a flashlight. But for that you need an inner compass. You need to know you'e going in the right direction, even though you are only consciously aware of the few trees in front of you.
And it would be a  mistake to interpret Hemingway's "shit detector," as an excuse for cynicism. The modern era has happily latched onto that one, because it's easy and instantly gratifying.  The writer's "shit detector" should be a highly private faculty, a radar screen behind the eyes, an instrument of  navigation, that, to my mind, is the umbilical cord to the source of all creativity that lies in the collective consciouness. The "shit detector" is best at routing out what is ego or mere circumstance. It's also a muscle, and it atrophies if not used. It's located deep inside the body, and you have to listen carefully or its message goes unheard.
Last week I posted a paragraph from the first chapter of my novel "Veil of Time." Due to popular demand (!), here comes another - this time from chapter two. To fill you in: my protagonist, Maggie, has moved into the cottage at the base of Dunadd Fort in rural Scotland. She has a history of seizures - in fact she is biding her time at Dunadd until the lobectomy surgery that should end these for good. Her medication usually takes care of them, but the following one slips through, and we begin to sense that her stay at Dunadd is going to bring more than she had counted on. This early in the story, she thinks these are just  dreams, but , as time goes by, the plot will thicken:
"After the seizure comes sleep.  I dream I am at Dunadd--not the present Dunadd, because in my dream there are high walls all up the side of the hill where nowadays the footpath meanders through heather and bracken.  I am standing where the house ought to be, looking down on the river, only this time there’s a footbridge, and across the field aren’t sheep but a village of houses, all thatched and smoking, not rectangular stone houses but round houses made of wattle and mud, houses that look for all the world like an African village.
I have had dreams before in the aftermath of seizures: I have argued points of theology with Mary Queen of Scots, who wasn’t the blockhead history has made her out to be. I have strolled along the beaches of Saint Helena with Napoleon insisting to me that he was being poisoned. But nothing has struck quite so close to home as seeing Dunadd in this way, with goats tethered and children running barefoot, with great waves of drumming and singing, and at the back of it all, a low murmuring like a didgeridoo. I must have arrived during some kind of festival.

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