Clerestory

Balance in writing

June 14, 2020

This is just a short post about the balancing act or filter which writers have been advised to employ.

Dorothea Brande, in Becoming a Writer (1934):

The grain of truth in the fin de siècle notion, though, is this: the author of genius does keep till his last breath the spontaneity, the ready sensitiveness, of a child, the “innocence of eye” that means so much to the painter, the ability to respond freshly and quickly to new scenes, and to old scenes as though they were new; to see traits and characteristics as though each were new-minted from the hand of God instead of sorting them quickly into dusty categories and pigeon-holing them without wonder or surprise; to feel situations so immediately and keenly that the word “trite” has hardly any meaning for him; and always to see “the correspondences between things” of which Aristotle spoke two thousand years ago.

But there is another element to his character, fully as important to his success. It is adult, discriminating, temperate, and just. It is the side of the artisan, the workman and the critic rather than the artist. It must work continually with and through the emotional and childlike side, or we have no work of art. If either element of the artist’s character gets too far out of hand the result will be bad work, or no work at all. The writer’s first task is to get these two elements of his nature into balance, to combine their aspects into one integrated character.

In other words, they must cultivate both a fearless creative side (increasing the energy of the work), as well as a ruthlessly critical side (reducing the energy of the work).

It reminds me a bit of that Flaubert quote: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” It’s not quite the same idea, but might be related.


I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter or see more here.