Friday, November 25, 2005

the levitation of princess karnac

As I sat trapped in a cab en route to a big pitch this morning, an idea for a story (length undetermined, but I think it can grow to novel-length) arrived banging gongs and fluttering gossamer cloth. It's a story about magic, of course, and I think I can set it in the Philippines during the 1920s-30s, bringing to bear what I know about stage magic and what I've read recently (books like "Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear" by Jim Steinmeyer). It's something I'm terribly excited about and cannot wait to make time to write. But for now, given the toxic requirements at work, it will just have to wait and gestate for a while. I have no illusions about being able to write anything next month during our US vacation, but hope to be able to at least write an outline or something.

I always need to temper the arrival of a great idea with my ability to devote time to executing it. In the storehouse of my mind, there are several good ones that appeared with the intensity of an unexpected storm, but have yet to be completed - like the perpetually morphing "Graveltown" or the where-the-hell-is-this-play-going "The Butterfly Emporium". Sometimes these previous ideas are simply supplanted by a new idea that rudely cuts into the line. Sometimes it just isn't their time to be born, and any attempts at premature delivery would have fatal results. And sometimes it turns out that idea is all sound and fury (but very pretty sound and fury) that cannot be developed beyond the initial tantalizing conceit.

Once in a while though, an idea comes that cannot be denied. It shimmers and teases with its fantastic shapes and mysterious outcomes. When this happens, I give up sleep and try to catch the words to describe it, cursing the slow pace of my six-finger typing method, fearful that the story will vanish like Kublai Khan's poetic pleasure dome. Of late, this happened twice - with a short piece and a novel - ideas that looked intimidating and perplexing but which, upon closer reflection, were within the realm of my ability to set on paper. Of course, after the initial rush of wonder, the hard work of completing and refining the story takes up a vast track of time. I don't know anyone who can write a pitch-perfect story on first draft, void of even the smallest grammatical errors or lapses of story logic. But I'd rather toil away for hours and days and weeks on something I know has the potential for beauty, rather than attempt to create wonder from ennui.

It's really all about time and discipline. Talent can take you places, yes, but it is fickle and untrustworthy. Though I've stated above my preference to work on something I know can be beautiful, there are many times in my writing life when I've worked on something uncertain, without even the smallest whiff of potential wonder. During those times, I rely on my discipline to get me through, generating small sparks of inspiration to get through paragraphs, chapters, exchanges or sequences.

A writer's abilities are not developed by talent but rather by devoted work, an investment of time and effort in thinking about the writing craft, in reading thousands of pages, and in writing itself. I'm nowhere near what I hope I can become in terms of being a good writer, but I discipline myself to take steps - sometimes small and quiet, sometimes dramatically leaping to a new place - because I know I need to keep on moving. I need to move constantly.

So what about the story of a levitating princess?

I'll get to it soon.

I want to.

I need to.


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