Friday, March 28, 2008

The weaker sister

In recent years health problems have devastated my life and forced me to stop doing the things I most passionately love. First flying, then racing were lost to me. My beautiful home is gone, my beloved airplane lies in pieces, my Cobra sits silent in a lonely storage unit, likely never to have my hand on its wheel again.

As my life disintegrated, a new pursuit emerged: writing. Writing is less susceptible to the health problems that have plagued me. As long as I can sit up and move my fingers, as long as I can think clearly, I can still write. Even if I lose my computers again, as long as I have adequate offsite backups I should be able to recover the fruits of my labors.

Still, I've always regarded writing as a pale substitute for the real thing. The weaker sister. I would never have chosen to sit around writing about racing if I could be doing the real thing instead.

So I guess you could say that if it weren't for the illness, I'd never have started writing my novel. Slaving away over a hot computer for hours, only to produce a few flat colorless pages of prose? Give me a drive in a real race car on a real race track any day.

And every hour you spend on the track requires many hours of preparation of your equipment. When I was involved with racing - and before that, flying - there just wasn't time or energy left over for writing.

This feeling has persisted since I had to stop racing and flying. I never stopped longing to be back on the track, seeking the elusive limits of adhesion; back in the air, upside down, pulling G's.

The writing was just a way to experience vicariously what I'd formerly been able to do in real life. Pale and lifeless by contrast, it was the best I could do.

But recently that perspective changed. A few days ago I had something of an epiphany about the writing process.

I've begun to get an inkling of the power of words and the satisfaction which can be had from engaging in the process of forging them together. I've started to believe that performing a writing task well could actually be as exciting and rewarding as hurling a car through Turn 2 at Mosport or Turn 10 at Watkins Glen.

Granted, the experience of crafting a glowing chapter isn't as dynamic as what happens behind the wheel. There isn't the sensory overload, nor is there the elation of cavorting on the edge, peering for a moment into the abyss of physical disaster and then dancing away, eluding the jaws of the demon one more time.

But there is something else. With words you can do things you simply can't do any other way. You can entertain, yes. You can inform. You can appeal, seduce, cajole.

But you can go deeper. You can peel back the facade, the veneer of civilization we all wear, and reveal essential aspects of the human psyche. Fundamental truths which might otherwise remain hidden.

And to do this well, to explore the deepest darkest most hidden corners of the human psyche, you have to plumb your own.

The risks are high; I believe that to write convincingly about the evil men can do, you must explore your own potential. Dig in the muck of your own psyche. Channel the deepest currents of sorrow. Ride tsunamis of howling rage, taste the level of fury that drives the most savage acts.

To reveal the truth through fiction, you must put yourself inside the character, live her every thought and emotion. You must become the hero, become the villain.

And when you do, there is no place to hide. They say if you can dream it, you can do it. Is this true? Murder? Or worse?

To write fiction well is to know yourself. And this may be very dangerous.

This is the power of words.

Writing well is, among other things, a craft. No matter what level of talent you're blessed with, you can improve. With practice, with instruction, with guidance.

With a lot of hard work.

Honing your craft, I've discovered, can be a real thrill.

1 comment:

Ruud said...

Ouch! There I go, hunting for old documents, finding your name again and following a few links.
You're legendary in the GPL department (at least for me :) ) and I'm sorry to hear that life has strucken you a blow with your disease.
Good to read you're still doing actual driving now & then, and have found a new passion in writing.

The best of luck!