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The Writer's Inner Workshop

Silent dialogue and anguish over the blank page

By Rav OldejPublished about a month ago 13 min read
The Writer's Inner Workshop
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

My aim with this text is to modestly attempt to describe the work of a novelist. What happens when a writer sits down at their desk? How do they manage to invent a story and create characters? How do they bring them to life before our eyes, making them act and speak in a way that convinces us, the readers, that they have their own existence? These questions and many more touch upon the very heart of the creative act in literature.

Do you write?

Perhaps writing a book is a project you are considering, or maybe you have already started. But what does this endeavor truly entail? Writing is much more than merely putting words on a page. It is a profoundly complex and demanding act of creation. A novelist must be a keen observer of human nature, an architect capable of constructing believable worlds, and a magician who uses words to create palpable illusions.

You devote yourself to writing. Each day, you immerse yourself in this universe where words flow, collide, and pages darken under the frenzied dance of your pen. For months now, a story has inhabited you, taking over your mind and refusing to be easily captured on paper. This story is both your greatest source of joy and your deepest frustration. There are days, like today, when you feel trapped, stuck before a scene that stubbornly refuses to take shape.

Yet, you visualize it with disconcerting clarity in the labyrinth of your imagination — the details, the colors, the emotions — everything is there, alive, almost tangible. But when it comes time to write, to transcribe it, a chasm forms, a void you don’t know how to fill. For three days now, you’ve been up against this invisible barrier. You write words, then cross them out in irritation. Every attempt seems futile, each new beginning quickly followed by yet another strike-through.

But you persist, because the desire to bring this scene to life is stronger than the urge to give up. You pick up your pen again, dive back into your notes, desperately seeking that spark, that thread that will allow you to grasp this scene the right way. You erase, rewrite, and start over, again and again, in an endless cycle where each sentence is a battle, each paragraph a conquest. Because deep down, nothing gives you more profound satisfaction than taming the words, aligning them to your will, and finally seeing them express what your soul has been trying to shout for so long.

There are moments when discouragement takes hold of you. Sitting at your desk, time feels endlessly long, and the pen or keyboard in front of you serves only to occupy your idle hands. You handle them mechanically, sucking on the end of your pen or dusting off your keyboard, but nothing materializes. The hours pass, silent and barren, and you are confronted with the dreaded anxiety of the blank page. This sense of powerlessness creates a void within you, a sort of silent abyss that swallows all inspiration.

Then there are those other times, those flashes of genius when everything seems to flow naturally. You sit down, and the words pour out with such fervor that you barely have time to think. They fall, almost miraculously, arranging themselves on the page, in battle formation, ready to conquer the hearts and minds of your future readers. During these moments, writing is a fever, a delirium, an enchantment.

But then comes the next day, with its relentless rereading. What you had written in a burst of passion suddenly seems meaningless. Disappointment creeps in, accompanied by its faithful companion, sadness. You find that your sentences, once imbued with their own life, now appear dull and disjointed. The characters you once loved are in disarray, lacking depth and truth. The landscapes, once vivid and colorful, are now uncertain, reduced to vague sketches. As for the style, it gets lost in a dense fog, unable to capture the essence of your thoughts.

Each word becomes a reproach, each line a defeat. What you feel then could be compared to the historic retreat of the Battle of Berezina, a disordered withdrawal in the face of the relentless enemy that is sometimes your own judgment. This struggle between creative momentum and ruthless critique forms the tortuous but inevitable daily life of every writer.

How do those eminent authors you admire so much manage it? You often find yourself frantically leafing through their works, searching for hidden secrets between the lines, hoping to uncover lessons of mastery and finesse. You know there is no true school for training writers, no academic curriculum where one learns to capture dreams and translate them into words that captivate and move. Yet, you are convinced that writing must harbor its own secret techniques, its unwritten rules.

When you think about it, other arts seem much more structured. Take painting, music, and dance: they all require formal training, hours of rigorous practice, and education in specialized schools. Painting demands not only a sense of aesthetics but also a knowledge of techniques, colors, and textures. Music is unforgiving of imprecise notes and requires years of studying musical theory and practicing instruments. And what about dance, where every movement of the body must be precise, learned, and repeated under the critical eye of a master?

But writing, ah, writing!

By hannah grace on Unsplash

It seems so simple on the surface. After all, aren’t we all capable of dreaming, imagining, and inventing stories? Didn’t we all learn to write from a young age? Mastery of language is a basic skill taught in the early years of primary school. Every day, we write without thinking: emails, reports, texts, even shopping lists. We all imagine ourselves as writers because we use words daily.

Yet, there is a chasm between writing to communicate and writing to create a world. The authors you admire seem to cross this chasm with disconcerting ease. You wonder how they manage to bring such complex universes to life, with characters so deep and plots so captivating, using the same twenty-six letters of the alphabet that everyone else uses. You seek the answer on every page you devour, in every book you study, hoping that through their prose, you will discover the path to mastering the subtle and powerful art of writing.

Becoming a writer seems, at first glance, a completely achievable goal. After all, writing doesn’t require expensive equipment or special facilities; paper and pen, or even a simple computer, are enough. Yet, those who have tried to tackle this art know how complex and demanding it is.

Indeed, writing is not simply about conveying information like a report writer. It is a subtle art, akin to that of an illusionist. The writer must captivate their audience, ensnare them in their imagination, make them believe that the events described are truly happening before their eyes, at that very moment. They must weave a reality so convincing that the reader gets lost in it, forgetting the real world around them.

In this exercise, the writer must lie skillfully. But this deception is not malicious; it aims to entertain, to transport the reader to another world, to provide emotions and pleasure. Every word chosen, every sentence constructed, every character created must contribute to this masterful illusion. The writer, like a magician, manipulates perceptions and plays with expectations to offer a memorable and moving experience.

They must master the art of storytelling, knowing when to accelerate the pace to maintain suspense or when to slow down to let the reader immerse in the details of a setting or the nuances of a dialogue. Every element of the story must be carefully orchestrated to achieve this sense of reality, this impression that everything being told could very well happen, even though, deep down, the reader knows it is fiction.

Thus, writing transcends the mere transmission of information to become a complex and enriching form of art, capable of captivating and deeply touching those who allow themselves to be carried away by it.

Where does one learn the art of writing? Can we really speak of rules, of methods? Is it even conceivable to teach writing, this expression so personal and so mysterious? Clearly, the idea of learning to write, similar to learning techniques like golf or floral art, seems almost heretical, as it can appear reductive in the face of the majesty and mystery inherent in literature.

The image of the writer is that of an inspired being, almost supernatural, traversed by visions that they transcribe in a kind of mystical trance, like a medium receiving messages from a realm inaccessible to ordinary mortals. This romantic vision of the writer portrays them as a privileged channel through which universal truths or hidden beauties are expressed, not by laborious work, but by a quasi-divine breath.

Many writers have experienced those rare moments of grace, those “gifted verses,” those “gifted pages” where the words flow effortlessly, where the story unfolds with disconcerting fluidity, as if dictated by an invisible and benevolent force. These poetic creations seem to materialize under the writer’s pen as if emanating from a source outside themselves.

These moments of pure creation are rare gifts, moments when the writer feels less like an actor and more like a privileged witness to the spontaneous birth of a work. Under such conditions, can writing really be taught? Or is it rather about creating favorable conditions so that, perhaps, the muses might deign to visit us?

It is true that one can study techniques, styles, narrative structures, and even practice exercises designed to sharpen our sense of storytelling or our command of language. But the ability to create works that touch hearts and awaken minds remains a mystery that, while it can be framed, can never be completely tamed. Perhaps this is the true beauty of writing: an art where technique serves as the foundation for inspiration, without ever being able to guarantee when and how the magic will happen.

These moments are like jewels in the vast treasure of our books. They shine with a strange brilliance, emerging from the unexplored depths of our being, from those mysterious and remote areas so rarely accessed. Our hands have indeed crafted these pages, and yet, upon rereading them, we struggle to recognize ourselves in them. It is as if, for a fleeting moment, another self, a more inspired, more skillful version of ourselves, took control of the pen, infusing the writing with an almost divine quality.

Unfortunately, these moments are rare pearls in the ocean of novel writing, an art that unfolds over time and demands constant perseverance. An entire novel cannot simply be "given"; it is the fruit of long labor, a continual struggle against words and against oneself. It requires continually fueling the creative fire so that it can ignite the three hundred pages of a work.

For every page written in a burst of grace, how many others must be laboriously extracted from our recalcitrant minds? Almost all of them, without exception. Adding to this intrinsic difficulty is the perhaps even greater challenge of masking the effort behind the writing. It is necessary, with consummate skill, to hide every trace of labor, every scar left by the pen, so that the story appears to flow effortlessly. The ultimate goal is to captivate the reader, to carry them effortlessly into the tumultuous current of the story, making the illusion of spontaneity and ease the greatest of literary artifices.

Over the years, this constant worry, this apprehension every writer feels when facing the blank page, becomes a familiar companion. It is never completely banished; instead, one learns to domesticate it, to turn it into an ally. Just as an actor uses their stage fright to transcend themselves before stepping on stage, the writer learns to channel this tension to surpass themselves, to leave behind their everyday self and dive into the depths of creation.

The journey has not been without obstacles. Every day, every page turned was and remains a battle, a challenge to be met. This constant confrontation with words, this relentless struggle to give shape and life to your thoughts is not an easy task. It is a process that is painful at times, exhilarating at others, during which you sculpt your work while also sculpting yourself, redefining yourself through each sentence, each story.

But this inner battle, these doubts and fears that you have learned to tame, have shaped the writer you are today. They have become indispensable tools for your creativity, stimulators of your imagination, pushing you ever further in the exploration of the complex and captivating art of storytelling. It is thus, through total commitment and constant confrontation with oneself and with the art, that one becomes a writer.

As a young novelist, you felt a genuine apprehension at the thought of making your characters speak. They floated in your mind as heroic figures, bathed in a quasi-sacred aura, and the idea of grounding them in everyday reality by giving them dialogue terrified you. Assigning them ordinary words seemed to strip them of their grandeur, reducing them to an unbearable triviality that would dilute all their romantic essence.

Every sentence you put on paper had to, in your eyes, bear the indelible mark of literature. You avoided simple words, those of everyday life, preferring rarer, more precious terms. Likewise, you eschewed direct, unadorned expressions, choosing instead the complex and winding phrases characteristic of the authors you admired, whose works filled your bookshelf. You sought to borrow their voice, believing that literary greatness resided in obscurity and stylistic complication.

This quest for literary perfection, however, often confronted you with creative paralysis. The desire for each line to achieve a high artistic ideal hindered your progress, making you doubt every word, every sentence. Over time, you learned that true novelistic substance lies not only in grandeur and complexity but also in the authenticity of the voices you give your characters and in the ability to find beauty even in the prosaic aspects of everyday life.

This trap is well known to all who aspire to become writers. When we begin our journey, we are often driven by the desire to rewrite the works we cherish, to rebuild our ideal library with our own words. It is an attempt to measure ourselves against the giants of literature, to equal or surpass the masters who have shaped us. However, experience quickly teaches us that the true work of the novelist is not so much about competing with great literary works, but rather about telling a captivating story.

Fiction encompasses a variety of forms: tales, short stories, novels, each with its own specificities and expectations. The novel, in particular, is known for its flexibility and richness, capable of adopting a multitude of forms and structures. Literary art is often characterized by its ability to innovate, transgress conventions, and push the boundaries of what is typically said or perceived. The great authors are those who have managed to distort, even reinvent, common approaches to offer a new vision of the world.

In this context, my intention is not to dictate norms or establish strict rules about what must be done. My goal is more modest: I wish to share reflections on what can be done to approach what I consider the essential qualities of a good story. These qualities include the coherence of a well-constructed universe, the effectiveness of a plot that engages the reader from beginning to end, and the precision of a style that, while elegant, remains accessible and clear.

When telling a story, we invite the reader to enter a world we have created, to believe in it for the duration of the reading. It is both a bold and delicate act, requiring intuition, sensitivity, and a deep understanding of the art of narration. Ultimately, writing a novel is an exercise in balancing our personal vision with the reader's expectations, between innovation and tradition, between artistic intent and narrative pleasure.

The writing process involves immersing oneself in an often entirely fabricated universe, populated by characters born from the author’s imagination. These characters must be endowed with plausible psychologies, desires, conflicts, ways of speaking and acting that make them come alive in the reader's eyes. The writer must consider both inspiration and technique, carefully weaving each thread of their story to capture and maintain the reader's interest.

Ultimately, writing a book is engaging in a silent yet intense dialogue with the reader, a dialogue in which the writer must constantly anticipate and respond to the reactions, emotions, and intelligence of those who will delve into their work. It is a challenge that requires courage, perseverance, and a deep understanding of the art of storytelling.

If you have the chance to observe a painter in their studio, you can witness the creation of a work of art: how they draw the lines that define the composition, how they gradually arrange the shapes on the canvas, organize the perspectives, and manipulate colors and materials to bring their painting to life. Of course, simply watching a painter at work will not turn you into an artist; the mysterious depths of creation often elude the observer. However, there is much to learn by watching an artist make decisions, test ideas, and ultimately see these elements blend into a coherent image.

The work of the novelist, on the other hand, is quite different. Their art with words is intangible, often hidden, rooted in the mind. Observing a writer bent over their notebook, typewriter, or computer, shoulders hunched, they often appear as absorbed and focused as a studious chess player, calculating their moves in front of the game board. Even if we know the general rules of writing and some strategic principles, it is impossible to directly visualize the writer's thought processes, the secret combinations and strategies that lead to the creation of a captivating work.

My goal, and I hope I have achieved it, with this article was to open up the writer's inner workshop for you, to show you how stories are crafted in the secrecy of the mind. Perhaps, having read this article, you will recognize your own doubts, hopes, failures, and successes.

And if this article does not take the form of a methodical guide, it is because I firmly believe that the adventure of storytelling is itself a novel. It is a story that deserves to be told, and since you have embarked on writing, you are already, perhaps unknowingly, one of its protagonists.

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About the Creator

Rav Oldej

I always try passionately to learn everything related to human nature...

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