Friday, June 10, 2016

Amount of Pain Required

My mentor, Elizabeth King, has a chapter in her book, Attention's Loop, called "Level of Difficulty". The chapter details the process of beginning a sculpture, and the endless expansion that occurs with each step; one step forward, three steps backward, the designing of a jig to make a jig, and so on. I just came upon this reference to Nietzsche's description of the "pain required" to write a novel, in Alain de Botton's book, The Consolations of Philosophy. I thought it would be useful to pass on to my students. We are not writing novels, but the concerns are basically the same:

If most works of literature are less fine than Le Rouge et le noir, it is– suggested Nietzsche– not because their authors lack genius, but because they have an incorrect idea of how much pain is required. This is how hard one should try to write a novel:

The recipe for becoming a good novelist... is easy to give, but to carry it out presupposes qualities one is accustomed to overlook when one says 'I do not have enough talent.' One has only to make a hundred or so sketches for novels, none longer than two pages but of such distinctness that every word in them is necessary; one should write down anecdotes every day until one has learnt to give them the most pregnant and effective form; one should be tireless in collecting and describing human types and characters; one should above all relate things to others and listen to others relate, keeping one's eyes and ears open for the effect produced on those present, one should travel like a landscape painter or costume designer... one should, finally, reflect on the motives of human actions, disdain no signpost for instruction about them and be a collector of these things by day and night. One should continue in this many-sided exercise for some ten years; what is then created in the workshop... will be fit to go out into the world.

Addendum: the day after posting this, I happened to watch a TED talk featuring the psychologist, Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi. I'm a longtime fan of his books on flow, etc. The ten-year rule came up again here:
"It has become a kind of a truism in the study of creativity that you can't be creating anything with less than ten years of technical knowledge, immersion in a particular field-- whether it's mathematics or music, it takes that long to be able to begin to change something in a way that it's better than what was there before."