I did a bit of yoga for a short while, and one of the things that has stayed with me since – and continues to echo as I encounter the days – is the notion of ‘being present’. You know, the typical yoga speak of, ‘Bring yourself into the moment. Be present in it. Let everything else just fall away.’ What puzzled me initially was the question of, well, when had we started being absent from the moment? When did we go missing?

We live in a world of distractions and abandonments now – memes, phones, the tele and so on – so I guess that’s one answer: we got lost in hypermodernity. Our presence in the moment fell away in the white noise of it. And this notion had been knocking around my head for a while when a friend sent me a snippet from an interview he did with Yuval Noah Harari on the evolution of writing as an act. Harari says that writing ‘habituated people to think in terms of the written word, and not in terms of what they had experienced in the world.’ If it was true that the written word had begun to define reality, alienating us from presence in the process, what might this mean for literature?

Well, it seems to me that quite often creative writing is not present in the moment. The inexperienced (or lazy, or poorly-advised, or bad) writer tries to write literarily, and thus worries about how it all sounds (it must sound literary), and thus attempts to impregnate every line with symbolism or meaning. How it sounds usurps how it is. The inexperienced (or lazy, or poorly-advised, or bad) writer fails to experience (or be present in) the world they themselves are depicting, and because of this the reader never gets a chance at all.

Now, consider this brief description of an object in William Faulkner’s Pylon:

The tarpaulin was stiff and heavy to hold and presently heavy to carry too, but inside it he ceased to shake.

You can’t know the context of this moment (unless you’ve read Pylon), but I can tell you that the tarpaulin is of no consequence to the novel’s narrative (except to warm somebody that’s cold). It doesn’t contribute to the theme or tone. It is simply there, in that moment, a detail shared for the sake of its own existence. I marvelled at that sentence for ages, because, through the simple description of an object, I had been simply and immediately teleported into that very moment. I was experiencing the world of that novel in and of itself, not being given a scripted guided tour by Faulkner[1]. I was present.

So my tuppence on craft is this: as a writer, you must give your reader space to experience the world of your story (whatever form it takes); consequently, you must ‘be present’ yourself in the writing of that world. Do not ignore the detail. Cherish detail for detail’s sake. Cherish the moment for the moment’s sake. Do not worry about sounding ‘literary’; be faithful to the thing you are trying to render, not judging it but replicating its true form. Share the experience of it. In doing so you give the reader space to live the experience and process the experience too, and to make any judgments for themselves. You cut them loose to enjoy their reading, and to run free through your creation.

[1] For the sake of fairness, it should also be pointed out that Faulkner (and all of us) is often guilty of the very opposite of the above note on craft: the overly (and overtly) Literary sentence.

 

Danny Denton’s novel, The Earlie King & the Kid in Yellow, is available now from Granta Books.

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