Anyway, driving back to College Station I spent some time pondering friction and its meanings. (The Texas heat outside my car a nice example of environmental friction). I first came across the concept years ago, plodding and trudging and slogging through Carl von Clauswitz’s On War:
“Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction...This tremendous friction...is everywhere in contact with chance, and brings about effects that cannot be measured, just because they are largely due to chance...Moreover, every war is rich in unique episodes…The good general must know friction in order to overcome it whenever possible, and in order not to expect a standard of achievement in his operations which this very friction makes impossible.”
Well, now. Let’s look at that for a minute. Way back years ago when I was reading On War, I was also taking a creative writing class (my first cw class ever, taught by the great Shelby Hearon). I thought I saw a connection. Still think so. Try substituting “writing” for “war” and “writer” for “general.”
“Everything in writing is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction… The good writer must know friction in order to overcome it whenever possible, and in order not to expect a standard of achievement in his operations which this very friction makes impossible.”
Every writer knows the truth of this, I think. I knew it then, and it’s even more apparent to me now. Writing is simple—but difficult. The world works against writing: friction slows the writer down. Friction in writing can include the basic distractions of life, such as raising a child or paying the rent, or getting drunk, or cooking dinner, or grading papers. Everything that takes the writer away from the page is a form of friction. Friction also includes the very functions of writing itself—the difficulty of using language, the tyranny of the blank page.
So what’s the lubricant that can ease writerly friction? In terms of warfare, Clauswitz argues for will:
“Perseverance in the chosen course is the essential counter-weight, provided that no compelling reasons intervene to the contrary. Moreover, there is hardly a worthwhile enterprise in war whose execution does not call for infinite effort, trouble, and privation; and as man under pressure tends to give in to physical and intellectual weakness, only great strength of will can lead to the objective. It is steadfastness that will earn the admiration of the world and of posterity.”
Will! How very Prussian! Just sit your ass down and get to work. But perseverance in the chosen course will in fact get words on the page, no doubt about it. Writing is a worthwhile enterprise whose execution calls for infinite effort, trouble, and privation. If I remember correctly, Alice Flaherty also talks about writerly will in The Midnight Disease, one of my favorite books on writing. But I would expand on the concept of will—in fact, expand it so much I’d not call it will at all but desire. For I feel there’s something more going on in writing beyond steely determination—love, lust, some weird combination of emotions and actions, something. Desire. Properly focused, desire can get a writer through a work all the way to the last sentence and the final period.
Still there’s the continuing question of how best to focus this desire. I'll ponder on this some more....
Places to look for stuff….
Novelist Shelby Hearon, one of my heroes. You should read her books.
George Friedman’s intelligence website, Stratfor. His book, The Next 100 Years.
Clauswitz’s On War, condensed. (In this case, condensed is best).
Alice Flaherty’s The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain. Highly recomended.