The following two points are personal introspections that have occurred during the process of switching between writing my first novel and reading other works of literature. I am not stating absolutes, just expressing ideas.
Rely on the Subconscious – Your subconscious will make thematic and metaphoric connections for you while you write the novel. Relationships between moments will suddenly appear even though you did not consciously intend to create these relationships. It’s quite striking and encouraging when these moments occur during the writing process. Rely on your subconscious to enrich the literary quality of your novel during the initial writing process, then return to the work during revision in order to consciously stitch together intentional thematic elements. The stitching or binding together of thematic elements requires the writer to make choices, which leads me to my next point about how choice is intertwined with both the writing process and the writer’s ability to write.
Choice, Talent, and the Writer – This thought regarding choice surfaced while reading A Farewell to Arms. I’ve read that Hemingway eventually collapsed beneath the weight of his own genius, or that he could no longer organize his thoughts. Of course, what must first be noted is that a good, if not great, writer must be able to clearly express his or her thoughts – but that is merely a necessity to becoming a solid writer. It is not the essence of talent, because the clear expression of thought can be developed to an extent. The true core of a talented writer partially resides in his or her ability to make the proper choice in terms of the writing itself, to decide which choice is the absolute best (or at least one of the best) out of a multitude. For example, in A Farewell to Arms Hemingway writes:
That night in the mess after the spaghetti course, which every one ate very quickly and seriously, lifting the spaghetti on the fork until the loose strands hung clear then lowering it into the mouth, or else using a continuous lift and sucking into the mouth, helping ourselves to wine from the grass-covered gallon flask; it swung in a metal cradle and you pulled the neck of the flask down with the forefinger and the wine, clear red, tannic and lovely, poured out into the glass held with the same hand; after this course, the captain commenced picking on the priest. (7)
Hemingway chose to avoid using periods throughout the entire passage in order to mirror the constant flow of food and drink consumption that occurs during dinner. The punctuation reflects the narrative moment. Therein lies talent: knowing which choice is the best, the most effective. If you think of great writing in these terms, then Hemingway, at the end of his career, might not have been able to extract the best choice out of a million possibilities. He could no longer discriminate. This condition would have been devastating to a writer who had previously known the best choice going on instinct alone. Losing this ability, this talent to instinctively make the best choice, would tear down the self-image, hence destroying the foundation on which the writer’s personality had been built. The human being without a conscious sense of self becomes a disoriented animal. And an animal without instincts is, for all intents and purposes, already dead.
Ben Hill Parham is a third year MFA candidate in fiction. He plans on finishing his first novel soon, even if it kills him.