“I had to write this.”
Ever heard an author say this after receiving an award? What do you think they mean by it? And why do so many say it anyway? Are they serious? They couldn’t help it?
Over the next few posts before Christmas, I’m going to try something I’ve resisted for a few months now. I want to try to lay out the hierarchy I’ve been working to understand, this hidden structure that supports high quality books. It’s not an easy thing to come to and I’ve seen a lot of confusion about it, even in high places of the book industry. But something I’ve seen consistently in most authors who win awards is that they recognize there is a hierarchy in writing quality books. You don’t hear anyone talking about it—maybe it’s discussed in some Creative Writing classes—but these award-recipients seem to all be saying something about they way they came to their books, and this has led me to a word picture to describe what high quality books are and how they are produced.
So imagine a geyser on top of a mountain—Mars Hill, if you like. That little space between the rocks, the hole from which the geyser of the created work sprang? That’s the author. The story was not theirs; they were used by it. The author becomes the empty space through the process of writing, and both the water and space it flows through are subject to the forces of nature. Factual, objective reality dictates how much, how high, how prolific, how fresh that water is—everything about it, in fact. The author prepares himself for the work to flow through according to how the natural laws have shaped him or her. Now, you don’t have to understand these natural laws to write well, but they are what define high quality literature.
I like this analogy because it portrays why some geysers are “better” than others. While some people may prefer the visual explosion of the spray, others might want fresher water. But regardless, the best geyser will be the most appealing and the cleanest, thereby satisfying the most people. Any division between commercial and literary books is artificial because both types abide by the same rules defining high quality.
Rules are rules.
And what I find really interesting about these rules, these natural laws, is that they’re based in the same objective reality as the biblical doctrine of absolute truth. I suppose if I understood more of how deeply everything speaks of God I wouldn’t be so intrigued by this. But I’m still discovering how the act of writing can show us who God is and how he works. And it’s the discovery that drives me and convinces me we’re not just amusing ourselves here, talking about books and getting most of it wrong.
So I want us to work at discovering some of these natural laws over the next few posts. I think that statement from authors who stand on podiums and shrug is much more than a “golly-gee” response. There’s a reason they had to write what they did. A reason they couldn’t get away from it. And I think if we explore this a little, we may find some things underneath that point to the reason their geysers worked so well.
Maybe you’ve thought of this already but haven’t interacted with others thinking the same things, let alone heard their responses. But if we can stand here and consider what created this fountain on top of the hill, look at it rationally and experience it with all our senses, we should be able to figure out some of the things these authors have uncovered.
So if you’re a regular attender here, please consider yourself a part of the discussion and leave a comment. And new members, I apologize in advance if you get a little wet.