TUESDAY, 2 NOVEMBER 2004
Writers send the material they produce in privacy into the world for a variety of reasons. They also express the thoughts that eventually manifest as the literature that end up in bookstores and on bedside tables in various genres with which readers are more or less familiar. Poetry, novels, short stories, articles, essays, and opinion pieces in newspapers are examples of these literary types.
As both a reader of literary material other people produce and interpreter of my own thoughts on paper I am aware of the above genres. The poem, I can certainly admit, is a literary type for which I cherish some sentiment. The (usually) shorter length of the poem, the way each word and each line matter, the challenge to say what you want to say while keeping up with rhythm and rhyme make the poem an exceptional challenge. Other authors prefer the novel – the longer narrative with its characters, its back story, its dramatic incidents, beginning, middle and end, and so on. The short story is a medium I find more appealing, length being one reason – you start, you write a few more pages, you finish up, and you start the next one (to simply it somewhat). Opinion pieces for newspapers I have never written. Articles I have tried to write, but I am still stuck at the second assignment of a writing course I registered for three years ago because I haven’t managed to come up with five topics on which I want to write articles. The essay is a genre with which I have become comfortable in the last few years. Essays can be short – as few as 500 words – or they may go on for page after page without necessarily reaching a satisfactory conclusion (not that great for the reader, but what can you do?).
The literary form of expression I find most agreeable is the written note. The note is immediate. Titles are luxuries to be reflected on much later. The emphasis is on freshly squeezed ideas. Sometimes a few hours pass before a thought makes it on paper. Sometimes the delay between thought formation and words in pencil or ink can be counted in seconds. Of course, the sometimes rough wording of thoughts and emotions does get polished up a bit at a later stage. Paragraphs, headings and other formalities of literature eventually send the note into the world like a gutter dog ready to bark for the cameras after a good wash and a decent haircut.
One is often reminded that other people are usually not that interested in your personal struggles and accompanying diary notes. As book entrepreneur I also have to consider the difference in sales between genres most readers know and expect and the more obscure types. The note might be a convenient format when you want to immediately express ideas that present themselves to you, but the genres apparently preferred by most readers are novels and short stories. If you think you’ve got something to say that you cannot shape into a story like an H.G. Wells or a George Orwell, then the essay would be the preferred choice.
This brings me to a technical crossroads: Am I going to reshape the scrawling in my last few notebooks in the form of essays, which will give the book it will form part of a better chance of reaching that dream sales number of an entire dozen copies, or will I simply polish the notes into a more digestible style and then send them into the outside world in almost the same format they originally entered my inner world – which will probably limit sales to a more modest two or three copies?
I say, let the words stand as they are, for now.