I was recently listening to our own Donald Williams give an interview for a podcast. In the course of his talk he was discussing how today we have libraries of information at our finger tips, while in the time of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien they had to work harder to get at things. They had to read books, not just google them. In doing so, they came to know their books and the ideas in them intimately. He also mentioned why he thought this resulted in a better education–and this is my paraphrase:
The students I’ve seen who have the deepest insights aren’t necessarily the most intelligent ones. They are the the ones who are moderately intelligent and have to work at things a little more. They get to know what they’re talking about more deeply because they have to spend time with it. Lewis and Tolkien had that advantage, plus they were geniuses!
The more I think about that–this idea of slow, patient, intimate knowledge, acquired through hard work–the more this strikes me. We have such an emphasis on getting things now and getting them without effort that often times we often resent the idea of having to work for our knowledge. It comes to us so easily! As a result, we don’t think things through for the simple reason that we’ve been trained to believe that doing so isn’t our responsibility. Someone else will do it for us. Information takes the place of understanding and wisdom, and it is supposed to come at the click of a button (i.e. We shouldn’t have to actually read all those books for that paper! Who does that?!). We purchase the next big thing just because it’s new and someone said it’s better (Is it? Microsoft Anything, anyone?). We vote for the next politician because he/she promises to give us everything we want (“Trust me! I have your best interests at heart! Just don’t ask what you’ll be giving up in return….”). We are too often satisfied with wading in the tepid, muddy, mosquito filled shallows when, if we pushed farther, we could find the cool depth of a sea the end of whose grandeur we can never see.
Is it sometimes any different with our fictional worlds? Are we in such a hurry, so desperately busy, that we just try to reach in and grab what we can before rushing on to the next shiny thing and expect people to praise our work simply because it is our own? Do we live in our worlds and get to know every rock and pebble like an old friend, as Tolkien did? Do we see them in our mind’s eye so clearly that we get lost in the details of a scene, like Lewis did? If we ourselves don’t take the time to really dwell in our worlds, to speak with our characters, and to understand them as friends and family–if we simply “process” them and spit out fiction as a result–will we ever write anything really worth reading? Perhaps more importantly, even if it’s worth reading, will it be worth remembering?
I’m afraid not. But therein lies the challenge: Dwelling, abiding, understanding, feeling, etc. on that intimate a level–all of it takes time and is at points uncomfortable. We have to slow down and be willing to work at it. And that is becoming a more and more difficult thing to do. It takes sacrifice. Each opportunity we choose to set aside to write, even if it is just to “live” in our world in a story we know will probably never see light of day, we have to give something else up.
It all comes down to this: What am I willing to sacrifice so that my world and my creations might more fully live?