Writing Advice: Find Your Own World

A writer's room; source: http://guardian.co.uk

Over the past few weeks, I have posted some quotes that encourage writers to go out, experience new things, and be out in the world. I do believe that going out and being in the world creates inspiration and more material for writers. But, at its core, writing — to me — is a cloistered person in front of a desk working in their own little world to create more worlds. Today, when I set out to find a quote for this post (on Advice to Writers), I found one that supports my stereotypical image and archetype of the writer shut away in his or her office.

A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is: when I speak of writing, what comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or literary tradition, it is a person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table, and alone, turns inward; amid its shadows, he builds a new world with words. — ORHAN PAMUK

Let’s take this quote piece by piece. First, Pamuk mentions writers having a “second being” inside them. What does that mean? To me, it means that writers are many people. After all, writing has been described by one famous writer or another as a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. When I’m in the middle of a writing project, I am constantly thinking about the characters in that piece of writing and the dialogue that they might plausibly have and what they will be getting up to when I sit down to write once more. That, I think, is the second being. The second being is one of your characters, usually the main character, who possess you so clearly and fully while you are trying to write her or him. In a way, writers can practice empathy in this way because we must stand in the shoes of our characters and imagine life through their eyes.

What I love about this quote is the middle part of it, that Pamuk focuses completely on the process of writing and not the end process. I’ve always admired the quote that says the journey is what matters, not where you end up, and I feel that applies to writing as well. What really matters to a writer is the process they had to go through to get to a finished product — the imaginings, the late nights, the songs that match up with memories of your story or poem or essay, the events you had to miss to catch up on writing, even the people you had to neglect to finish writing. All of those things encompass a writer’s view of his or her work. The finished product is a fairly small part of this thing we call writing.

Finally, Pamuk talks about “build[ing] a new world with words.” The best books that I have read in my life have made me feel like I’m in a new world. Even if the books take place in an actual setting that already exists, the way the author imagines in and what he or she chooses to fixate on shapes a new world in your head. If I sit back from reading a book and I feel as though I’m popping back into the real world after a brief hiatus somewhere else, I consider that to be a good book.

So, I suppose the advice that I take away from this quote is to find your own little world and make rules for that world in which to write. Once you’re there, cloistered in your own little environment, shut up in a room as Pamuk says, you can begin building your world with words. If you don’t take pleasure in your own process, if you don’t enjoy how you arrive at the finished written product, perhaps writing is not for you.

— Jet Fuel Editor, Mary Egan

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