The Portrait of a Writer (3): More than Words

Sometimes I want to write something beautiful, something meant to inspire. And this burning hunger grows inside me, consumes me to the point that I can’t write anymore. And it all feels pointless. It seems as if I will never be able to write more than just words, more than a nice story.

After all, writers are also readers. And all the stories that left a mark on us appear to be much more than just words. More than simple stories, they’re the fuel that ignites what’s most human in us, the engine that has driven mankind towards greatness.

With a lot of hard work, anyone can become a good writer. There are numerous examples of writers who have been publishing one impeccable novel after another. And, yet, there a few great writers.

Because, oddly or not, it’s not when you feel words bleeding out of your heart that you create real art. It’s a nice illusion, one I have embraced for a long time. That you have to suffer in order to create real art. The troubled artist is one of the most endearing of human types. A lifetime of abuse and drugs and pain, all magically transformed into wonderful works of art.

And, yet, there are many who have suffered, many who have taken to alter their bitter disillusions into art, and few who have succeeded.

Believing that art is a God given gift is easy. And, as most easy things in life, it’s a view shared by many. But there are others who work hard. They study, read, take creative writing classes.

But what’s ironic in all this is that no matter how much you work at becoming a great artist, there will always be someone who doesn’t seem to understand anything about the process, about how it works or why it works, but yet, he churns out great stories. There are self-taught artists out there, beautiful artists.

Art is as much about accumulating knowledge and wisdom as it is about living your life. As it is about creativity and imagination. About getting your heart broken. Or your legs. Or fighting in a war. With a million strangers by your side or all on your own.

Art is never something to be understood, to be dissected like a frog in a laboratory. Because the answer is simple: nothing can make you a great artist. No one can teach you how to write a great novel. A good one, yes, but never a great one.

Maybe it’s all an accident. Like Hemingway said, sometimes you get lucky and write better than you can. But I also believe that anyone can write a great story. Or just a fantastic paragraph. Something beautiful, meant to inspire, to make the fire in a reader’s soul burn strong and bright.

Every day, somewhere in the world, a writer sits down at his desk and writes the best thing he has ever written. Maybe he doesn’t even know it yet. Maybe he will never know it.

I just hope that one day that writer will be me.

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65 thoughts on “The Portrait of a Writer (3): More than Words

  1. Really enjoy your blog. But I have a few concerns here…It is patently untrue that "with a lot of hard work anyone can become a good writer." It is just not a strong point for many people. I could work really hard at it and never be a remotely good painter, for example. Also, drug abuse does not create art, the artist does. The self-torture requirement is a myth. PLEASE watch this talk ALL THE WAY THROUGH, the best part is at the end. Also, see Stephen King's thoughts on drugs and alcohol as a muse in, "Writing: A Memoir" All you can do is write from the heart. If you are worrying about whether it is good or great while it's happening, you are listening to the wrong voice…. WATCH AND LISTEN to – http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/elizabeth_gilber

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    • Well, yeah, a good writer. It's no big deal being a good writer. They teach that in college. There are quite more good writers than enough readers to support them. And you give the most famous of examples: Stephen King. He's a brilliant storyteller, but just a good writer. Just good enough to be enjoyable. And it shows that he worked really hard. And if you read his book, "On Writing," you get that. But, as he himself admits it in this book of his, he's not a great writer.

      There's this controversy about what makes a book great or not, about commercial literature and so forth, but artistically speaking, King is just a good writer.

      And another really interesting thing. King's been writing for a long time. And then there's Nicole Krauss, who's just 37. And even King's best of stories don't compare to what Nicole Krauss can write. Another example is Tea Obrecht. She's 26 and has already won the Orange Prize for Fiction.

      Indeed, there are writers who have been writing for longer than she's been alive and will never enjoy that much critical acclaim. Because they're just good writers. Being a good writer doesn't guarantee you anything. I know 16 year olds who are good writers. Already. Yes, and pretty good ones too. Half of them will probably give up writing in a couple of years.

      Hard work will only make you a good writer. How I see it, good writers write nice, enjoyable stories. Great writers write something much, much more. A cheesy as it sounds, their writing is almost magical. In a way, it's not about the writing itself.

      Imagine how it feels to be a French Poet today when one of the best French Poets of all time, Arthur Rimbaud, wrote all his stuff in his teenage years? And he also promoted this whole suffering artist thing a lot.

      It's quite the paradox isn't it?

      Like you said, all you can do is write from the heart. Sadly, there aren't enough writers doing that. There are far more wordsmiths who are just playing with sentences.

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  2. You're so right. I think one of the things that bonds (and draws) writers together is the shared feeling that writing is more than intellectual — it's *visceral* and painful and wonderful. Well said, Cristian.

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  3. I think you've managed to create a deep insight into the pains and frustrations of writing.

    I myself am only young, and aspire to 'become' a writer, however with my youth comes inexperience and naivety, and I have not the knowledge or maturity to understand love or hurt or raw emotion. I am often able to spurt lots of long, flowery sentences into a piece of writing to make it sound pretty and intelligent, but really I am writing nothing of any insight. I sometimes wonder what the point is.

    Thank you for the post!

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  4. Great thoughts, and motivation to continue writing and improving as you go along. You never know when the right inspiration will come along for a great piece of writing, or a day when everything clicks and you write something that will be enjoyed by others for years to come.

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  5. Writing seems to be both an art and a science. The science part can be learned but the art needs to come from an inner awareness by the writer of all that makes him/her human. I don't believe that a person needs to experience great tragedy to be a great writer. In fact, this type of trauma can harden a person. What is needed is the willingness to see all that is beautiful and all that is ugly in the human condition and, most importantly, an openness to one's personal response to what is observe. If these two conditions are met, we experience both the deep agony and joy that is a part of our shared existence. Writing about these is what moves people to experience their own agony and joy. I know I am reading the work of a great writer when I am changed in some way. Toni Morrison has done this, as has John Steinbeck.

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  6. The last sentence brought tears to my eyes. That is a sentiment I feel at the core of my being. Someday, I'll write something that gives me the feeling of unbridled joy. Until then, I can only keep trying.

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  7. You should probably try to give yourself more credit and be more willing to start out small and to take small steps to the greatness you envision. I think most great artists spent a lot of time preparing and practicing before they finally launched that great work. I suppose just take everything as a process in becoming the great writer you want to be?

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  8. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. It would be lovely if there were a formula for writers that would make them successful. However, I think that you've got a huge part down–you are sharing your work. You are making sure that your voice is heard. That, I think, is a huge part of the battle in becoming a writer that publishes and shares his stories with the world. So, please, give yourself credit for the remarkable work you've already done.

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  9. Definitely, looks like we are all wearing the same skin, and having the same heart, this blog is so lucid I feel I am thinking it, does it mean we are all the same and sailing the same boat. As writers we all think alike and this makes us one. It makes us so connected thanks for the post. That writer is definitely you.

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  10. Cristian, I love your blog and yes sometimes when you read a great sentence, paragraph or story it seems that achieving the same can never happen. Writing constantly and with heart is the only way to get there, something you are doing and doing well. I love your words.

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  11. I really enjoyed reading this entry. You write beautifully.

    I used to concern myself with so many things regarding writing. From the idea of talent, to the reasons behind the act of writing itself. These notions and ideas were consuming, and intimidating. They also occupied a lot of the time I could have spent on developing stories.

    But one thought began to occupy my thoughts over the years, and it eventually overtook all other thoughts: "I have no choice". Shikata ga nai. 'There is nothing I can do'.

    I realized that there is nothing in this world I'd rather do than write; that I would be unhappy always, unless I made a living from writing; that talent was irrelevant, and the only thing that mattered was the objective: living entirely from writing, never again having to do anything else. I could have a million jobs, and I would hate them all, because they are not writing.

    It is not a noble or profound statement, and it is certainly not a mystical statement, what it is though, is an active and aggressive statement, not a passive one.

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  12. Thank you Christian for another thought-provoking post. There is certainly a lot I can identify with, but also some things that make me question my ideas on writing. But I also wanted to thank Margaret for linking that TEDTalk with Elizabeth Gilbert. It was awesome!

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  13. Reblogged this on Sherry's Space and commented:
    I know how you feel, I have the same feeling. I wrote 8 poems that came from my dreams 3 are published but I want to put them in a book and also to write a book about my childhood. basically what ever you want to write about just do the 5 W's and get your info together and then prepare your outline how you will start the book

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  14. This is such a great description of the feeling that also plagues me as a writer. I've been spinning stories for years and often when I sit down to edit or just flip through everything I've amassed it all feels foggy. There might be a great story there, somewhere, but I just can't reach it (and, might never be able to).

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  15. It is comforting reading that I am not the only one who struggles with issues like this! However, please know that your writing did touch me today and I hope that your creative path leads you to success whatever that may mean for you! Great post and keep writing!

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  16. I really enjoy your writing and blogs. I do believe that if one writes something that affects another in some way; they have become a Great Writer. Maybe not great in the Hemingway sort of way but at least great enough to have made a mark on society.

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  17. I guess the question is, can you only be born a great writer or can one be made. I was watching something about boxing the other day and one comment caught my ear: either you're born a puncher or not, nobody is made a great puncher. I think there's truth in that. A lot of great minds did there best work when they were very young. I think it all depends, though, on the person. There is not a one size fits all to creativity or greatness. There may be patterns yet nothing for sure. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

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  18. I enjoyed this post, and it's timely, as I've read your short stories I downloaded, other than Jazz which I'm reading currently. Great writing is capricious. It's not always for a writer or reader to agree on what is great. Too, it may change in the way of fashion or taste.Great writing is also enduring. Great writing reminds me of that saying about dogs & cats and masters & slaves ;)

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  19. I really love reading your blog, I so resonate with what you share and am so inspired by your passion, insights and dedication as well as the generosity with which you share your human wisdom and practical knowledge. Thank you!

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  20. Pingback: Essay: Baring it all to Strangers « Alchemy of the Word

  21. Inspiring…Cristian, this is more insightful than the years you've lived. Indeed, the stories that continue to echoe in our minds are made of words and beyond. That is the mystery of great writing. I love your work!!

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  22. Cristian, I enjoyed reading your thoughts about 'good' and 'great' writing. The bottom line seems to be, that if you REALLY want to write, you should do your best to understand the craft, you should read fine writing, and you should put all you are into well-considered, authentically felt words.

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  23. Wow. I love this.

    I recently picked up East of Eden for the first time in about 15 years. Yesterday, I was walking home from the bus and I hit this section in the beginning of the second part where I just came to a standstill there in someone's front yard and let my eyes go over these passages again and again as a long blur of cars sped by, my ears too far gone from the world at that moment to catch the noise of their passing. I think when you hear the peal of truth ring out to you from years past, it's as if the intervening years sweeten the tone yet can't dull the clarity and I wonder how many times someone's feet have been rendered immobile by these words, how many ears have bent to hear their truth ringing. I sat at my kitchen table when I got home and did absolutely nothing. I just let the sentences swirl around my head like an expensive port while I sniffed at it's hints and undertones… realizing it was too precious to gulp down. This is as good as literature gets.

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  24. I agree with what you've said here, the mystery of art and creating in general. I know some artists who seem to have entered the world knowing exactly what they needed to do, and working hard to make it happen. But they seem to have the advantage of several lives' worth of being an artist before, stepping into an old, familiar role in this lifetime. How was Picasso a master of realism at age 14? How did Joel-Peter Witking know by the time he was a young boy that he was interested in exploring the tragedies and beauties of the human body? I will say that one does not "need" to suffer in order to create art; however, it is only through suffering that transformation is possible. The great cracking open that is either embraced or denied. It wasn't until I entered a great period of suffering that my own art emerged. Not writing, a different visual expression. A path was opened by, and into, the utter devasation. I chose to engage with it and the making of art was the result. Anyway, you have a lovely blog here and I've enjoyed reading.

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  25. Excellent post! I grew up harboring the dream of someday publishing my own book, but got sidetracked and ended up doing something else instead (doctoring and mothering, among others). Blogging is the perfect outlet for me :)

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  26. I hope that one day, that'll be me, too. Whether it's on accident or on purpose, I hope to realize it and revel in that day. But to write well, to write great stories, you (we) must write poorly, and write awful stories. I still struggle to accept this.

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  27. One of the things I learned from my years as an English major is that academic criticism frequently has insightful things to say about a piece of fiction or poetry, but the subjective reaction to poetry, that je ne sais quoi, is always just beyond the reach of description, more than words. Keep writing Mr. Mihai. Maybe, with talent and a little luck, you will write something so beautiful that it will transcend the present moment and last for centuries.

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  28. Your writing is perfect, it's fluent expressive, honest, Maybe the day will come when you'll be able to " see " it . Being a great writer is mainly an opinion. In my opinion, great writing is being able to bring out emotions in the reader, and so far, you've managed to do that to me at every post I've read so…

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  29. Thank you for this! I often doubt myself because I am horrible with grammar and punctuation and dag-nammit Technology! I constantly have to edit my work. I'm learning and hope and hope, I can become more educated… This needs money lol, so I try as hard as I can. Happy writing and thank you.

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