Trapped in Amber

amberIn the Chronicles of Amber novels (at least the early ones), the premise is that there is one real world, called Amber, at the center of existence. Some people with special ties to Amber can walk through the shadow worlds it casts– this ‘real’ world being one among them– an infinite number of paper thin worlds that get stranger and stranger the further away one travels.

In much the same way, I sometimes suspect that all writers have just one story inside them, but that story is buried deep in them in ways that make it unexpressible, inaccessible. It’s a piece of grit in their soft meats, and they build fictions around it to make pearls which other people find beautiful but which they wear like scars. This central story is inseparable from the character of the writer, and though it changes with them over the course of their lives it stays mostly the same.

When you read enough of a person’s writing, you start to get hints of this story at the nucleus of their stories. You see the parts they flinch away from and dive into, you notice their trembling hesitation or barely constrained lust when certain subjects are approached, and you come to know them in ways they probably never intended. It’s never enough that you could necessarily say something that is true of the author– for all you know, their story is crafted from the nightmares they had after seeing a commercial for a horror film on television when they were five– but it’s a deeper and more intimate and more distant kind of knowing.

This is why the hunger for novelty can be creative poison. As much as we’re driven to keep doing new things, it’s important to keep on doing your thing: These are only mutually exclusive to a naive mind. Just as there are an infinite number of worlds in Amber’s shadow, there are an infinite number of shadow stories you can write, and each one is unique, and each one is centered in you. If, in a quest for novelty, you try to write out from someone else’s story, you’re just building on a facsimile of someone else’s work, crafted from sand, at low tide. This is impossible to do well– if you’re a strong writer you might be able to do it with admirable craftsmanship, but even then the final product will be lacking.

I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t try to learn from what other people are doing, or even to try to emulate other writers you admire, simply that you should avoid importing these new elements without first filtering them through your own customs. The things we read, see, consume, they become a part of us. Bit by bit, things are added into the story inside of us, and sometimes, as time passes, things fade away. It becomes vital to the long-term survival of a writer, then, to consume new things, to absorb and integrate them and make them your own, or you’re left staring bleary-eyed at the fast-fading remnants of the only things you know how to write about.

Write what you are: Seek to be more.


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