I came across a quote by Charles Jonson, ‘Without emotion, art is lifeless, without intellect it is shapeless’.
Emotion is the great driver in creative work, as we pitch forward into a world we can dimly see, yet yearn to explore. Previous travelers report on such territory in such solid geographic terms; sloughs of despair, oceans of joy, intellectual thickets.
In we go, but best be prepared…
My first experience of being lost in fictional space came in mid primary. It was somewhere between assembly and first bell that our teacher set a task, to write a piece of fiction. I began with a moment of vagueness, then an idea came to me accompanied by a sensation I have become very familiar with.
My image that day was of a wood, veiled in a curtain of green light into which I saw figures move. There was a deep sense of creeping fascination as the real world dimmed and the senses transferred to the place I was building on my textbook page. My characters walked on and the tension of quest hung in the air with intense expectation…
In truth, I didn’t finish that story. This was my fork in the road which eventually saw me stop writing completely by the age of sixteen. The visual arts became my new path and this kept me absorbed for many years.
However, just beginning that story left me with a memory of expectation and wonder, and a sense of loss at having never finished the tale.
Some twenty five years later, filled with that same sense of expectation, I began another children’s story. This time a little creature set out in a small ship and was soon becalmed on the infamous Sargasso Sea, a place known for its spells of calm and cloying rafts of seaweed. In times past, sailors were known to go mad and throw themselves overboard when faced with this maritime limbo. This could well serve as a description of my writer’s block… a creative ennui. How I emphasize with those sailors, perhaps some of them had been novelists.
At the beginning of a story, there is a sense of life and unbounded joy and emotional drive that sends you out into the adventure, you and your story. But it is what happens next that is the clincher and why I love the quote. That first wind probably won’t last. So what to do when ideas bloom in the head and that voiceless, maddening image has welded itself to your soul? It is yours now and it means something.
The thing to do, for better or for worse, is to decide what next; “To the oars, dear friends!”.
What happens when we don’t finish a story, I would ask the gargoyle at the gate of the underworld … but he won’t answer … because I already know. Those stories just walk alongside us, with a sense of terrible, happy expectation.
Rose and the wish thing was my first story to have survived the Sargasso.