What is the most powerful emotion one can possess when writing a creative work? Often we focus on what the writer wants us, as audience members, to feel when taking in their work, forgetting that they themselves must have felt something during the moment they wrote that crucial scene. Or maybe the most prolific writers don’t feel much, if anything, when they write. Stephen King’s been writing books for so long that he could probably write one in his sleep. It’s a question I’ve been pondering of late, and so now, I invite you to join me.
I write. Not just these blog posts, but in general: Fiction, poetry, a personal diary… though I have a hard time seeing myself as an artist. I feel that true artists pour their hearts onto a page to be devoured by the masses, to be appreciated like a fine wine at a lavish banquet; to be ripped apart like a deer carcass beset by a pack of slavering beasts. They do both of these things readily, perhaps even gladly. I do not. This is what separates an artist from a mere storyteller. Finding my heart is difficult, let alone presenting it to the world on a silver platter. That is why the world will likely not remember me when my time upon it is up. I don’t yet know how my heart feels about that. It changes its mind from day to day, it seems. The vicissitudes of life!
The best work, in my opinion, is the most memorable; and the most memorable to me is that which is so clearly tied to a specific emotion* that it’s almost impossible not to see the author’s hand… and yet, that scene still feels true within the scope of their story. Seeing the author’s heart is much different from seeing their hand, oft though it is that the former guides the latter.
*(I am excluding sex scenes from the above opinion. Though often quite passionate, if not downright raunchy, only the really bad ones are memorable. I still don’t want to see the author’s hand, here, but for a different reason– I already know what region of the body their second hand is touching… and I’m not interested, frankly.)
And so I wonder: What, then, guides the heart? The Mind is the obvious answer, the boring one. I don’t give points for boring answers. The mind is an important tool to most creative writers– it’s home, after all, to the imagination, the tool which ultimately builds our worlds. But to write with the mind at the helm will always seem soulless. We let the mind captain the ship when we write things like essays, and that is often all that is needed for scholarly tasks. Sometimes, you don’t even need the mind, much to my disappointment when I still attended university.
When I speak of the heart, I obviously do not mean so in the anatomical sense. The heart is simply where we tend to feel emotion first. When we feel love, our hearts flutter. When we feel sadness, true emotional anguish, it hurts like a knife through the chest– there’s a reason it’s called heartbreak.
Emotions speak to us on a primal level. No language or eloquent presentation is required. Laughter, crying, anger– these are all universal expressions. Art, then, is a more complex abstraction of these emotions. Music is the most primitive– and I do not mean that in a negative sense! That is to say, it was likely the first form of art. Some caveman or woman somewhere created a rhythm by tapping two sticks together, clapping their hands, or using their voice to create a series of pleasing notes. Music requires no language to understand, and therefore, in my mind, is the closest to raw emotion. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons can be interpreted and appreciated by all cultures. English-speakers listen to K-Pop and their favourite anime theme songs– and even though they likely don’t speak Japanese or Korean, it still speaks to them on some level.
Visual art is the next closest. Can it not be universally interpreted by all who have eyes to see? Not always, I would say– definitely not so much as music. An image or a scene may be more symbolic, more open to interpretation, depending on one’s social, cultural, and personal background. Van Gogh’s Starry Night might be seen as bleak, lonely, and unnerving to some, but to others, it is comforting, serene. To me, for example, it evokes a queer combination of the two, like watching the stars on the eve of some harrowing trial. It makes me feel small; but there is comfort in that smallness. I can hide in it, watch the world like a bat hanging from the rafters, knowing that nothing is watching me back. Anime is similarly subjective– less so than a static painting, granted, but there is variance in the way scenes and characters appear to different people. Foreign viewers will be oblivious to some of the various Japanese cultural nods and intricacies in certain anime– especially shows that like to toy with more abstract ideas and plots.
Writing, then, in my opinion, is the least effective conveyor of emotion. Not only does it require that the reader understands your language of choice, it also relies on the reader to come up with his or her own mental interpretation of the sights and sounds of the scene you are describing to them. The strength of your vocabulary does not guarantee the reader’s comprehension. The scene I describe to you will always differ at least slightly from the scene you envision.
This is why I obsess so much over emotion. If I want my words to reach you in the truest manner possible, I must ensure that every syllable of every paragraph resonates with the timbre of my soul, each sentence a brush stroke, careful and deliberate, across the canvas of comprehension. There is no such thing as perfection, of course; and even if there were, to craft such a story would take me far longer than my human lifespan– let alone attention span– would permit.
If I cannot see on the page what I felt during the writing of the scene, I start to hate what I’ve written. It’s a curse, really. I know my desires are unreasonable– that I’m being far too much of a perfectionist. It’s why I envy those who can easily write out 1000 words or more of their story per day. They know their work won’t be perfect, and they’re okay with that. What manner of emotion drives that sort of self-confidence? To present some imperfect thing to the world that might easily be misinterpreted, twisted, skewed, turned against you? Is it Optimism? Pride? Indifference? Long have I tried to emulate it, with limited success. I will continue to try.
But I think I’ve divulged enough about my inner workings for now. If you want more, you’ll have to beg. Plus, it’s almost time for my shift– grocery shelves don’t stock themselves– not yet, at least. What, did you expect this wannabe artist to be some successful corporate bigshot? No; I’m the little elf that makes sure your local supermarket shelves look nice, full, and organised when you come in in the morning. But you don’t need to thank me– I know they’ll look like shit again by the time you arrive– the vicissitudes of life, right? If only I could write with the same level of flippancy. I think I care too much. Or maybe the world just doesn’t care enough. It’s a difficult thing to ponder. Gets me really worked up when I think about it for too long.
Anyways, did I say something interesting amidst all this self-indulgent rambling? Would you like more of these kinds of posts in the future? I hope so. I’d be happy if you left me a comment. Maybe you can answer some of the questions I’ve posited. Or if you want to add your own thoughts on the topic, that would probably be fun, as well.