The Trial of Gilbert Norrell
Posted by Dirck on 15 January, 2014
I’ve been reading a quantity of blogs lately which pursue the question: What is a writer? This is a question very close to my heart, since I would like to consider myself in that motley but august category.
Some have a very inclusive notion of the definition, giving the nod to anyone who makes a serious effort to bang words together in the hope of generating a few sparks. Others are rather more restricted, and limit the title to those who have been published (without the “self-“) and been paid for it. The latter group point out that in this age where things like what I’m tapping away at right now are so ubiquitous, to go with a less firm criteria allows an awful lot of poseurs into the tent on the weight of a once-a-month recording of sock drawer contents or a persistent reblogging of items from Cheezburger.com with semi-witty comment upon it.
I have some trouble developing a sufficiently vigourous counter-argument to that latter position. I thus allow myself no more than writer-aspirant (which, as a pure side note, raises memories of the D&D Player’s Handbook character-class descriptions– “a level 3 Writer-Aspirant may attempt simile with +2 to their roll, but extended metaphors are subject to a -4”); I aim for publication, but it hasn’t happened yet… bar that one article for The Dragon back in the 1980s (that D&D thing has an rational foundation).
Which brings me to Gilbert Norrell. For those to whom the name is unfamiliar, he’s one of the central figures in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a book I heartily recommend to any who can tolerate the style of the early 19th century. He is, I would venture to say, the antagonist of the book but all the same I have sympathy for him. One of his lesser problems is an inability to publish his own thoughts. Apart from a firmly ingrained reticence, he cannot fight his way through the editing process. The written article says too much, or not enough, or gives an impression other than he’s quite happy with, and so he never quite finishes anything he puts his hand to in the writing line.
I’m not quite so picky, but I understand his problem. I’m a great starter of work, but because I’m not a Writer I can’t put aside all the other demands of daily life to finish it. The existence of “flash-fiction” gives some hope, since that doesn’t call for too many sittings, but it’s very much like wanting to cook a three-course meal with a centre-piece of Beef Wellington and coming out with intermittent corn chips. Not to be despised, but not quite as satisfying from a creative standpoint.
The point of this– I am once again coming around to the idea that I might spend the midday time I have available to knock words together to better effect than this mere unhinging of my head to let all the noise of the moment out. I might, for a while at least, look at getting some of the… actually fairly startling number of short stories I’ve got at various inflations of the first draft stage either fully inflated, or indeed moved into an editing phase of its life cycle. I’ve made similar noises in the past, of course, and since there’s no one riding herd on me there’s a very good chance that this habitual roaring will relapse presently. But until that relapse occurs, I am apt to be a little more intermittent here than the reading world has become quite used to. I realize with some horror that the flash-fiction submission which so encouraged me is not almost a year past, and I really should use both the small residual momentum of encouragement and the chilling terror of accidentally noticing time’s swift passage to spur me to achieving something. Even if it does merely generate rejection letters, that’s one more person aware of my writing than would otherwise be the case– and that has to build experience points towards leveling up, right?
This is not, by the way, a new year’s resolution. It’s just something that occurred to me on my walk.