The Most Beautiful Burden
The life of the author is not an easy one. It takes patience and perseverance to write a novel (or anything for that matter), and quite commonly, the writer feels like they exist in a vacuum. The writer is a strange animal, an entity that seemingly exists here and “there” (wherever “there” may be).
We pop in and out of this world, between the odd landscapes within our minds. There are many times when I ask family and friends to repeat things because I was “there” instead of here.
What exactly a writer is—well—that’s a rather interesting conversation. I say this mainly because not everyone is a writer. Not everyone has these curious voices in their minds; not everyone dreams intently about scenes or plots. The writer constantly is a deviser, an ever-working clockmaker, fixing and crafting a tale while hoping that the muse will look their way. Sometimes, she will. The muse is a fickle woman, but her voice is sweeter than song.
Photo by William F. Burk
Everything about writing is mysterious, and there’s a beauty in that. Perhaps it is because if we writers understood our craft fully it might be harder to respect it. The humble wish to grow; the comfortable are content.
And the writer must always be humble, for it is when they believe they understand the art that, like a feral dog, it will betray them.
So, what to take away from this. Well, if you’re a writer, then you should know that you are a lucky creature to hold the beautiful burden of imagination and the love of storytelling. Don’t—and I mean never—take that for granted.
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An interesting question came to me in a conversation with a friend. That is, the conundrum of “Where do story characters come from?”
I say that it is interesting because I quite candidly don’t know the answer. The arrival of a character is almost as enigmatic as the character is themselves. Characters are, in a materialist’s opinion, figments of the imagination. They are merely creations of the engine of the mind put forth for the writer’s use in a story. But we know that’s not all there is to it, though the above opinion is partially correct, of course.
But it is not wholly correct.
Characters are human; they are just as human as you or I. They have personalities; they have quirks and nuances; they laugh, and they cry. And most human of all, they possess the most remarkable resilience.
But their origins are unknown. Perhaps they are mere figments, ghosts of the psyche that are conjured for the very purpose of slaving to a plot. Or maybe they are a stroke of providence, a unique piece of “somewhere else” (if you believe there is somewhere out there that one could consider “else”). Of course, both explanations seem fitting on a philosophical spectrum, I believe there is more to it than that, and my beliefs come from a particular part of my writing process.
I do not brainstorm characters. Honestly, I rarely research name meanings to fit a character’s personality. Though there is no correct way to make or name a character (just as there is no correct way to write a story), I personally believe this takes away the sense of organism that the character possesses in my mind.
So, what do I do when I need a new character, you might ask? Well, I’m a bit careless. I clear my mind and simply ask:
“What’s your name?”
Photo by William F. Burk
It’s curious to me how I will always get an answer. Of course, I have planned characters, but most are happy surprises.
And because of this, I cannot say that they are mere figments for a story. Many of them don’t have a story yet. And as for providence, I don’t believe any of them are given to me.
No. Characters are something entirely other. Perhaps they are real? And I believe I love the mystery of it. They are blessings to the writer. They teach us; they surprise us; they show us the beauty in the world when they overcome
adversity. They are unique and wondrous little voices that speak to our hearts and minds…
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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If anything in your life is more important than writing—anything at all—you should walk away now while you still can. Forewarned is forearmed.
For those who cannot or will not walk away, you need only remember this.
Writing is life. Breathe deeply of it.
— Terry Brooks, “Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life
A friend disagreed with me once about the blessings of art in contrast to the curses of the artist. It is a fascinating subject indeed. And those who are not a slave to the muses have difficulty understanding the yoke the artist wears around their neck.
Art is the most beautiful burden, and that does not necessarily make it a bad thing.
In a conversation with my wonderful editor on if writing my second book will be easier than the first, I replied that, for a writer, ease is the enemy. Ease is the sign that you have stopped; ease is the sign that you have become comfortable with your writing ability, and that—well--that is a most dangerous position to be. If you ever believe that writing is “easy,” you must know that you are simply fooling yourself:
Danger! Danger! You must turn back!
Side note: This is an amazing book. You should read it!
So how do these two topics amalgamate? How does the burden of writing keep us from the dangers of ease?
Burden is the sign of growth; hardship is the sign of progress. Triumph over burden means that your passion is true, and true passion is the crux of good Art.
So, let me broaden the words of the great master above me...
“[Art] is life. Breathe deeply of it.”
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William F. Burk
Award-winning author of fantasy, flash fiction, and poetry. Author of "The Heart of Hearts," a debut fantasy novel. Always writing, forever and ever.