THAT DELICIOUS ENGLISH WORD

Updated: Jun 8



WRITING, LIKE ANY ART, lives by appetite. Truth is, you have to want it pretty bad. The hours are long and lonely and the blank page stares back at all of us, including the most successful writers. Appetite reflects what you love and how you love it, so it cannot help but reflect what and how you write.

All my life I've looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.

—Ernest Hemingway

Shortly after publication of my book, MAJESTIE, a friend of mine made an observation. "You enjoyed writing that, didn't you?" His words grinned. It is one of the better reviews an author can receive. And he was right. I couldn't wait to get at my desk every morning. I am convinced your reader will know that, by a kind of empathy well written books can affect in a reader. They will laugh in the right places, in the same strength, feel the same tug of emotion you did. That's how inspiration works.

Once a word or a community of words has the stamp of inspiration upon it, it can never sit idly on the page. On the contrary, it will perform for you, do its curious magic. And there is much magic in wordcraft if you're willing to put in the effort and the study to discover it, to liberate it, to let it do its mysterious work.

Appetite implies feeding, and no serious craftsperson can do better than to feed from the genius of the language, to acquire a taste for the delicious English word, past and present. The large bearded names: Melville, Whitman, Dickens, Twain, Wordsworth. Shakespeare, our Leonardo. The matriarch Jane [Austen, her face now on the 10£ note]. The Brontes, all three of them, George Elliot, Woolf, Wharton. Living authors Annie Proulx, Ian McEwan, Salmon Rushdie, Cormac McCarthy, Michael Chabon. Men and women of craft who moved, and continue to move our English forward through time, the ventriloquists who put words in our mouths, who help us shape our thoughts, who inspire us, who charm us and fill the quiet hours with endless stories.

Spoiled child that appetite can be, it soon demanded continuous feeding. I became a student of the craft.

Listen, that is, read with heart. Reading is a kind of hearing. Not for the sake of mimic or affectation, but, one, to tune the ear, and two, for the pure joy of it. Once you've fed and acquired the taste, let influence do its quiet work. To mimic Shakespeare would be foolish. To ignore him would be unfortunate. There are traces of him everywhere, not only in all those names above, but in your own work whether you are conscious of it or not.

I attempted briefly to consecrate myself in the public library, believing every crack in my soul could be chinked with a book.

—Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

The ripe, golden month has come again, and in Virginia the chinkapins are falling. Frost sharps the middle music of the seasons, and all things living on the earth turn home again.

—Thomas Wolfe, Of Time and the River

A great damp loaf of a body.

—Annie Proulx, The Shipping News

Undressing her was an act of recklessness, a kind of vandalism, like releasing a zoo full of animals, or blowing up a dam.

—Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys

And I have felt a presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thought, a sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused, whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, and round ocean, and the living air...

—William Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey

The more you read, the more the appetite quickens. As Antony said of his Cleopatra, "The appetites they feed: but she makes hungry where most she satisfies." Spoiled child that appetite can be, it will demand continuous feeding. I became a student of the craft. Like Darcy in love, I was in the middle before I knew I had begun. [Jane]

We wait for the unexpected word—which cannot be foreseen but must be awaited. We are the first to hear it.

—Paul Valéry, The Art of Poetry

As a writer, your job is to enter into the chaos in order to emerge. Such is the nature of art. "Let there be light" is as complete a thread of text as any author can hope for. Poet-translator-martyr William Tyndale introduced that phrase into the English language almost five hundred years ago. It is the primal metaphor for the creative act. What begins in chaos (or the empty page), ends in beauty and wholeness, a green world. And all at the expense of one true sentence.


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