Writing - The Art of Telling a Story
I have been writing professionally for 23 years and the one thing I have learnt is that stories are not pulled onto the page from thin air, nor are the best stories necessarily 'original'. They are, I have come to realise more and more, created long before a word is ever written and they often resemble other stories which have been told.
I say this because for me writing is a little like creating a sculpture.
Michelangelo said, 'The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.' and he also said this, ' I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.'
When I begin a book, I don't look at the blank page as some writers say they do, with trepidation. I feel excited because what I'm about to write is already written and my task is just to reveal its fullness and beauty by chiselling out one word at a time. The skill comes in finding the right combination of words, so that the story is revealed faithfully, and the image created is the best likeness.
Enjoyment comes after the hard work is done, when one is polishing the stone lovingly and observing with wonder and awe how the story has been released from bondage and its beauty and life revealed.
At this point the story and all its characters can now observe the writer! And it is like the moment a mother sees the child she has given birth to for the first time...Child and mother look at one another with recognition and yet for the first time!
This brings me to the idea of 'originality'. We like to think our stories are 'original', so much emphasis is placed on this idea - that a story belongs to the writer, and he or she has a right to it. But the truth is that stories have their own life and the purer the story is, the more it will resemble other stories told by other writers, only seen through different eyes. For our consciousness evolves and our ability to see stories and to write them in their fullness also evolves. My task as a writer, is to make the story that wants to be told, relevant for our times.
For just as a child is unique and yet it has similarities with all children: four limbs, a head, eyes, ears etc, so is every story unique and yet the same as other stories, though seen with new eyes. Michelangelo, after all, was not the first nor the last to depict David! Similarly most stories are just the same stories which have been told over and over again by different people in ways relevant to their times. For instance, the story of Faust and Frankenstein both originate from the Greek Prometheus Saga.
The only time I have writer's block is when I try to make a story 'original' or different from what already lives in me, in such a way that it loses its reason for existence.
I have learnt the hard way that what lives in my heart is the spirit of the story - which wants to be told - and that my task is to use my skill to tell it, not to distort it and make it 'different' but merely to reveal it through my eyes in such a way that it is relevant to those who read it toady.