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The Elemental  John Caruso
 Jul 01, 2003 14:18 PDT 


The ancient alchemists sought to change base metals into gold, explain
life, and discover the secrets of immortality. Alchemists worked with
one foot planted in science and the other in the quasi-religious.

This sounds suspiciously like writing. Substitute “writers” for
“alchemists” and “words” for “metals,” and I’d say you have a pretty
fair description of what we try to accomplish and how we go about it. We
try to convert base words into literary gold. We try to explain the
world, communicate themes and philosophies, connect on a visceral level.
And what is a published work but a slice of immortality? To work toward
a complete, effective piece, we combine cold, technical aspects with
sizzling spiritualness in the correct proportion. The writer who
concentrates only on grammar, syntax, and precise definition will
produce work that is sterile, soulless. Conversely, the writer who’s all
fervor with no structure produces work that rivals the forbidden speech
of mad prophets.

So where does one start? Like the alchemists of old, we begin with the
elemental: we write. This may sound hackneyed and obvious, but it takes
an existential leap of faith before we can honestly embrace this
directive as truth. Of all the writing advice I have ever received or
imparted, this is the purest. What makes us writers is WRITING. Not
thinking about it. Not reading about it. Not fantasizing about it. We
need to sit down, put pen to paper (or fingers to keys), and just write.
Free write. Journal. Compose a story. Create a novel. Write. This is the
only way we will learn, the only way we will improve.

By writing, we get a feel for language. We begin to develop an ear for
what sounds “correct.” When we write, we give ourselves the opportunity
to apply concepts learned from workshops, seminars, books, columns, and
coffee-fueled brainstorming sessions. The more we write, the more
confidence we gain. With confidence comes experimentation, which leads
to discovery.

Will we create gold every time we set out? No. Should we strive to
create gold each time? Of course. The act of writing is wonderful and
frustrating, transcendent and mundane, and it is ours to explore.

But for the moment, remember the elemental: we cannot create if we don’t

Now go scribble something.

John Caruso

Copyright 2003, John Caruso
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