Transcendence in Writing (David Farland’s “Daily Kick”)

Posted: August 27, 2010 in Uncategorized
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Note: This is from New York Times Bestselling author David Farland’s Newsletter. To join Mr. Farland’s daily newsletter, go to Runelords and look to the right of the page.

David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants—Transcending

One artist that I’ve found inspirational over the years is Niccolo Paganini (1782 to 1840), whose skill with the violin so transcended that of traditional artists in his day that it led to rumors that he had gained his virtuosity through frequent visits from the devil.

Paganini recognized that the violin could be made to do far more than traditional composers imagined, so when he composed, for example, he did things like make his violin mimic farm animals. In one creation, he had his violin echo the sighs and groans and squeals of two people making love—and I suspect that it was this composition that led to tales of women swooning as he played, or throwing off their clothes.

In any case, a few years ago, my son Spencer began to play the tuba, and one day he showed me a video of Oysteen Baadsvik, who made the tuba sound like the didgeridoo, who played two notes at once, who sang into the tuba, and so on. I recognized immediately what he was doing: Baadsvik was transcending the traditional role of his instrument. So I had my son begin to learn his techniques.

For a couple of years now, I’ve felt like my son had hit a plateau. It’s a good plateau—one that has the best tuba players in the country excited—, but it’s a plateau nonetheless.

So I’ve been quite pleased that this week he has made some breakthroughs. He had a composition that he has wanted to play for a year, but it’s written in too high a register. He hasn’t found anyone who could quite get it, and even his instructors couldn’t help. This week he suddenly figured out how to play it, and last night he said that he had figured out how to play a triple-high C.

I’ve been listening to him play this piece, and I have to say, it’s rather mesmerizing, and unlike anything I’d have imagined on a tuba. It almost sounds as if he’s playing a French horn, but there is so much more bulk and depth to the undertones that it could not be played on any other instrument.

I think that our writing should be this way. Very often, new writers look at well-wrought stories and think, “Ah, if I could just write like that!”

They don’t look at traditional tales and try to imagine methods for enlarging the scope of the art. It seems sometimes as if it is hard enough just to follow in the footsteps of some other writer.

Yet consistently, if you look at authors who achieve great popularity, you’ll find that often they’re doing something quite exciting with their craft, they’re transcending the current bounds of the medium. Oh, they might not be great at everything, but they usually are great at something. When you look at James Joyce’s FINNEGAN’S WAKE, you can find plenty of weaknesses. The book is dense and difficult for many reasons, primarily because Joyce abandons so many conventions—yet when it is superb, it’s untouchable.

I often suspect that writers I meet have their own genius brooding within them. They’re just so eager to write like the best, that they don’t really open themselves to developing new methods for transcending the art.

So consider your stories—your characters, your plots, your style. Is there some way that you see to write something better than you’ve seen done before? Can you see how to craft a great simile, or write the most powerful love scene ever written, or develop a new and fascinating character?

If you see even a glimmer of hope, a crack in the darkness, follow it!

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