A few weeks ago when I made some posts on aesthetics and entertainment v. art, I suggested that the issue of what the artwork is “saying” is of importance. Some folks at other blogs rightly pointed out that too much self-consciousness leads to polemic and hackneyed writing, but wrongly assumed I was advocating self-consciousness. I never begin a novel with an idea of a message I want to communicate—if I did, I’d write an essay.

(This is one danger of blogging—if you don’t cover all your bases, people will assume the entirety of your position has been laid out, when in fact it’s just a fragmented thought.)

With this misunderstanding in mind, I came across this interesting interview over at Frank, with Duff Brenna and David Applefield. It’s been nicely broken into thematic sections, and “The Role of Intuition” is particularly apropos.

One thing I love about writing novels is that you cannot control everything. When faced with 100,000 words, the mind balks at holding onto it all. And so, intuition, or the unconscious, necessarily takes over. At the end of a book, I’m always deliriously surprised to find connections, motifs, themes and, yes, messages, in it I was never aware of.

For example, around February I sent in the manuscript of the book that’s coming out next year. My editor’s reaction was briefly perplexed. “It’s strange,” she said, “after the previous 3 books about individuals being controlled by the political world, this one seems to be saying, The political doesn’t matter.”

This surprised me as well, so I went through it again and realized she was, as usual, exactly right. Most importantly, I realized that, in the context of the story, I believed this as well, but never realized I did. And it all fit—the book deals with seventies communism, where the political apparat had become so degenerated and sick in most countries that the “ideals” of the previous decades were just jokes. Only in the very, very last edit did I actually know what my central theme was, and made a couple small edits to focus that theme a little more.

Which then makes all this talk of aesthetics a little moot, because if intuition and unconscious pondering lead to the central themes, then how can anyone claim to understand its inner workings?

Which is then a rhetorical question, because plenty of people make careers assuring us they they do know, and know well. Why? Because there’s a market for it, budding writers want to know. When I entered graduate school I too believed that my published professors had the magic key. For exorbitant tuition fees, I could buy a key that would not only show me how to write well enough to be published, but write well enough to be remembered.

There is no key, and even if there were, I doubt anyone would know what it looked like.

(Originally posted at the Contemporary Nomad)