William Faulkner is one of those authors whose books I am unlikely to read in my lifetime. There are just too many titles I need to read for research, and when it comes to writing and reading in between life demands like earning a living and crawling from your cave now and then to socialise, Mr Faulkner is unfortunately low on my list of priorities.
Still, thanks to a friend, I had the pleasure of coming across an interview of this Nobel prizewinning author, and much of what this man has to say resonates in me deeply.
Intense, intelligent and deeply committed to his art, Faulkner pretty much says the written work – likening it to a work of art – is everything. “The artist is of no importance. Only what he creates is important, since there is nothing new to be said… His obligation is to get the work done the best he can do it; whatever obligation he has left over after that he can spend any way he likes.”
There’s also something assuring about him saying an artist would never be satisfied with his work. “All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. Of course he won’t, which is why this condition is healthy. Once he did it, once he matched the work to the image, the dream, nothing would remain but to cut his throat, jump off the other side of that pinnacle of perfection into suicide.”
I’m also quite amused about how he says the best job ever offered to him was as the landlord of a brothel. “It gives him perfect economic freedom; he’s free of fear and hunger; he has a roof over his head and nothing whatever to do except keep a few simple accounts and to go once every month and pay off the local police. The place is quiet during the morning hours, which is the best time of the day to work. There’s enough social life in the evening, if he wishes to participate, to keep him from being bored; it gives him a certain standing in his society; he has nothing to do because the madam keeps the books… All the bootleggers in the neighborhood would call him “sir.” And he could call the police by their first names.”
My perfect job would be to work in a bookstore, or a library, or heck, any job that has me on my feet.
The point Mr Faulkner was making is that peace and solitude is the best environment for a writer. “–And whatever pleasure he can get at not too high a cost. All the wrong environment will do is run his blood pressure up; he will spend more time being frustrated or outraged. My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.”
I tried booking tickets for my would-be first opera performance recently, The Barber of Seville , a show I always wanted to see. I had a minor heart attack when I saw the price of the tickets. “High culture, high cost,” a friend wryly said. I guess I’ll stick to roleplaying, the internet and Facebook games for my leisure ;P
I also love Mr Faulker’s description of a writer: “An artist is a creature driven by demons. He doesn’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why… The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then.”
I don’t know about other writers, but I have all these stories in my head that sometimes I’m afraid that if I don’t write them all down, they’ll go away and a little piece of me dies. I have this voice, a voice I don’t listen to enough, saying gently yet firmly: What are you doing just leaving them in your brain like that? You must get it all down!
Mr Faulkner also made me smile when he says the artist should have no time to listen to critics. The artist should be too busy writing. “The artist is a cut above the critic, for the artist is writing something which will move the critic. The critic is writing something which will move everybody but the artist.”
Best of all, he talks about how a writer needs three things – Experience, Observation, and Imagination. “Any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.” (I wonder if 1.5 counts.) “With me, a story usually begins with a single idea or memory or mental picture. The writing of the story is simply a matter of working up to that moment, to explain why it happened or what it caused to follow. A writer is trying to create believable people in credible moving situations in the most moving way he can.“
And this is my favourite sentence of his: “The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.”
Here’s to me hopefully breathing in life.
I’m beginning to wonder if I should not have it the other way around, that I should write my Malaysian novel first, then my NaNoWriMo novel later. I should be spending more energy and care with Malaysian Dark after all, while the NaNo thing is supposed to be something fun and recreational – something I could do when I’m not so spent.
Ah well, at least I managed to do 600 words more of Malaysian Dark last night. One of these days, I should explain why every word I write about this story is a victory for me, a symbol of why I choose to live without fear.
As for my NaNo YA novel, things are really taking off like a rocket! I am about to boot my main character out the window, as it were, and I foresee angst and pain and tears and bloodshed. Good times.
35533 / 50000 words. 71% done!
To recap: my mission this month of November – to do NaNoWriMo novel by day, my other Malaysian novel by night, and blog about something vaguely interesting every day of November. So far I am surviving!