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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Monday, September 22, 2008

what and why

Again I find myself sitting here for long minutes staring at the screen. What do I write about? What do I say?

Over the years I've said quite a bit in this blog, weighing in on various topics, trying to stay more or less based on the slow creation of my epic, but essaying many side-trips along the way.

My idea of myself as a writer is changing. When I started this blog in 2005 I still thought of myself as a more or less "normal" writer (if such an expression can be allowed): that is, as a member of a more or less well-defined category called writers. I figured that my thoughts, my methods, my difficulties might be more or less like those of others practicing my craft.

Now my feeling is more one of difference: how I am unlike others practicing a superficially similar craft. I keep thinking back to an observation made by Roger Penrose near the beginning of his excellent (and challenging) book The Emperor's New Mind, that he expected, when he was in university, that as he got ever deeper into his discipline of mathematics he would find he had more and more in common with his colleagues in that field. Instead, the opposite happened: as he got deeper in, he found he had less in common with his supposed colleagues, that his way of thinking was so different from others in his field that it was surprising that they could communicate at all.

And yet to outsiders, it would seem obvious that mathematicians would form a tight clique of those who, uniquely among humanity, could understand what they heck their members were talking about. The rest of us sure can't.

So it is, perhaps, with us all. The relentless differentiation of life means that we keep becoming more unique, more distinct, regardless of the groups or associations we belong to. Nothing can stop that. Perhaps it is a lifelong preparation for the solitude of death (counterpart to the solitude of birth).

The writer's task, perhaps, is to turn away from belonging and to use his medium--words--to communicate his uniqueness. A conundrum, for I've toyed often with this joke: "I'm unique--just like everyone else." We're all unique, and in that respect we're all the same.

Ah well. There is passion in me to do what I'm doing--so I'm doing it. What's difficult is to explain what I'm doing--or why. Maybe this blog will never do either of those things.


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