Writing a story resembles a journey, but neither the destination, nor the way we reach that destination are of any importance. What matters most is our ability to stop, look around, and ask ourselves, “Do I have to go any farther?”
It’s what makes us human: we are able to test the world around us, to learn, to evolve, to adapt.
This also means that we never find what we are looking for, our journey never ends. We’re wanderers, hopelessly trying to reach a destination with the vague hope of finding that elusive grandeur, that feeling that what we’re writing is perfect or close to perfect.
I write mostly at night, and sometimes I write so furiously, my fingers fueled by ambition and dreams, that I feel that this is it. This is the time when I’ll write something beautiful. And I’m afraid to stop. Eventually I’ll get tired and go to sleep. What happens in the morning is frightening: I have to read what I wrote the night before. Sometimes I can still see my dream there, trapped by a cage of words, almost intact, still vivid and powerful. Other times my dream has withered away, and all I have left is a jumbled mess of loosely tied words – something that will require a lot of work to get right.
In my humble opinion there are two sides to writing: an artistic side, or however you wish to call it, and one that turns writers into craftsmen.
Like Hemingway said, sometimes we get lucky and write better than we can. It happens, on rare occasions, that we write brilliantly from the first draft. Or almost. We’re sitting at our desks, doing our thing, and we’re great. We’re beautiful writers, and we can imagine (well, I do) Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald staring down at us from some cloud somewhere in Heaven and being jealous at our talent. Nothing can stop us, and thus we feel no desire to stop.
This is the artistic side of writing. The one when our fingers are tapping away so effortlessly, when words are pouring out of our minds in a cascade of beautiful metaphors. For anyone who has dealt with words for some time, these moments become almost religious in nature, because when they happen, the world around us stops. The world outside our window fades away, and we’re allowed the most sacred of processes: that of creation.
Moments of true inspiration are rare, and I’m afraid, don’t really make anyone a good writer. Because most of the time we would much rather sit on our asses and stare at a point on a wall. Most of the time, we feel there are no more words to be written. Our minds are blank, our vocabulary limited, our stories lame. We just don’t feel like it.
But this is what makes the difference: you write when you feel like it, and you write when you don’t. Maybe the first few paragraphs are awful, because you’re thinking about the rent, about taxes, about your wife being upset, about all those things you need in order to be happy. All those things that keep you from living in the present. But then something happens. Something great. You begin to write. To really write. Faster and faster, and more words come out of places you never even knew existed. And you forget about the parts that are missing and concentrate on the parts that you already have.
This is what I learned so late in my “career” as a writer (it took me almost eight years to understand it): writing is also a craft. And it requires discipline and hard work. And just like any other job, you have to show up at that desk. Whether you feel like it or not. And yes, there are days when you hate it, but then, slowly, you remember why you set out to be a writer in the first place – because you love to write.
Jazz was inspired by this great painting. It reminded me of a certain event in my past, and for a while I was happy to play with ideas, to create scenarios and settings. One night I told a friend of mine about this story I wanted to write: about a woman who had a lasting power of obsession over me during my teenage years.
She loved the idea and said that I should definitely give it a try. The thing is that she was going away for three weeks, so I decided to finish Jazz by the time she would come back. Surprise her with a first draft.
So on the first night I wrote 5,000 words. The next morning, when I woke up, I drank my coffee, smoked my cigarette, and sat at my desk to write some more.
I set out to write Jazz, owning nothing more than a few scattered images and the desire to write about Paris. I built my beautiful and mysterious woman, my young and naïve writer, and all the other characters in my story. And brick after brick I built my melancholic city.
Sometimes the characters let me in without complaining too much. I was allowed into their world the minute I punched the first keys. But other times it wasn’t like that. Other times I had to work hard to get in; I had to struggle to leave the real world behind.
Nevertheless, whether it came easy or not, I wrote each day. I never wrote on anything else during those three weeks. And when it was time to write, I did something more astonishing: I forgot about the Internet. About checking my e-mail, about watching funny videos on Youtube over and over again.
And guess what? It worked. At the end of those three weeks I had a first draft and realized that writing is not about those moments of burning inspiration. No. It’s much more about the moments when our muse has left us, when we feel weak and tired, when we don’t want to write.
Now, rarely a day goes by without me writing. A page, a paragraph, a few words that don’t even make sense. Writing is as much about perseverance, hard work, and building a routine as anything else worth doing in this world.
What can you expect from Jazz? Is it any good? I’m afraid you’re going to have to find out for yourself. I don’t know if there are questions, or answers, or lessons to be learned. I only know what I have gained by writing it.