Writing is mystical, there’s no doubt about it. The writer is the spiritual descendent of the early storytellers, who from before the dawn of history told the stories that defined their tribes. Gathered around a fire late at night, people would listen to the storyteller explain of what it was that lay beyond or within the darkness, interpret the stories of the stars. Wherever there was uncertainty, the storyteller wove a narrative to help people understand what science and direct observation could not.
When the printed language was developed, the writer was able to do what the storyteller could, only he could share his stories beyond time and space. The voices of the writers of Ancient Greece live on today, in all corners of the world. Writers have allowed the dead to be remembered, permitted heroes to live on eternally, far beyond any mortal life.
But it was not only Odysseus and Roland who were granted immortality by the writer. There are countless characters sprung from writers’ minds who are more real and have been more inspirational than most people born of mothers. I cannot imagine a world that was not influenced by the likes of Hamlet, Jean Valjean, Oedipus, George Bailey, even Superman. Where parents and real-life role models were lacking, such heroes were always willing to step in and demonstrate to readers lives that they could aspire to, virtues that made a character worth remembering. Some of my fondest memories are there because an author created them.
There are lands also that seem to be somehow our spiritual homelands, although we have never been there and perhaps can never visit. The ties to such places may not be rational, but they exist nevertheless. Whether it be the sewers of Paris, a Hobbit hole in Bag End, or Trantor, there are places that exist in our memories, places we long to revisit and come home to.
Such are the mystical aspects for the reader, but for the writer the process is even more supernatural. Ask most any writer of fiction, and he or she will tell you that their characters are the ones who determine how a story turns out, that it is they, not the author who determines how they act. The best sort of writing experience is the one that just flows, where little to no intervention is required by our conscious mind. Such an experience is real and is shared by more than just writers. Here’s John Popper describing the same thing happening to him through music:
Sometimes it’s brilliance all around me
Sometimes it’s light I barely see
And though I utilize its grandeur
It does not belong to me
‘Cause all I can do is vague description
As I do my best to share
The smooth perfection I can only dream of
The flow of all the life that’s there.
When everything is flowing, it truly does feel as though some higher force is guiding me. I’d feel embarrassed to say such a thing if it weren’t for the fact that many have said it before. The idea of a Muse, or goddess of inspiration, is well known. Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and many others have invoked the Muses to aid them in their storytelling. Some say that inspired storytelling would be impossible without them, and yet when they come to the writer’s aid, it seems that he is not the one writing but merely a recorder of the voice that speaks to him.
There is one more mystical experience I would like to share with you, though here I stand a little bit more exposed, as I do not recall anyone else expressing the idea: I write in order to keep the spirit of all my influences alive. I write, and in my writing, I desire to continue a wave of inspiration that was begun by the first storytellers has reverberated in the great works throughout the ages and continues to echo to this day. I am but a vessel for forces beyond myself, an echo chamber for voices far more important than my own. This probably sounds arrogant, but I’m not coming from such a place. I did not say I was a worthy vessel, merely a vessel for such forces and ideas. It could be I am quite incapable of dealing with such large ideas and be made to look quite ridiculous in my attempt. Nevertheless, I have experienced such feelings and emotions through literature that I feel it is worth my attempt to rephrase them, repackage them for a new generation. Sometimes lesser lights are needed to reflect the brightness of those who otherwise might blind.
Such are the thoughts I sometimes get when writing. It would be easier perhaps to ignore them, but I will chance sharing them in the hopes that I am not too far away from anyone else’s experience. I like to believe that deep down inside we are all of the same essential stuff, share similar thoughts and feelings. Sometimes it just takes a like-minded individual to draw it out of us.