Strong writing takes a fine balance
of peace and passion.
“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility” – William Wordsworth
When you’re reading and listening to people about how to write, you’ll notice how much of a fuss is made over the importance of passion in your writing. Writing without passion, you’ll hear, is dead, dull, and uninteresting; it is artless. It does not have the spark of life. All of these things are true, but not enough attention is drawn to the need for peace as well as passion in your creative work.
As William Wordsworth wrote in the above quotation, which was part of a preface to his collection Lyrical Ballads, poetry with passion is only half of the equation. Poetry written immediately after an extreme emotion of observation is unchecked, wild, and undisciplined. It may contain your strongest language, but not your best language. The second part of the equation is the tempering effect of contemplation. Here, I want to write about these two parts of just about any artistic discipline, and how to incorporate both of them in your own writing.
Teachers are right when they emphasize the need for genuine feeling in writing. For a piece of fiction or poetry to be moving and memorable, it must contain something of the way you really feel about it. A death is not tragic without the writer’s experience of tragedy; a love affair isn’t magnetic without the feeling of lust or infatuation or rapture that a writer can imagine and fill the writing with. The experiences or observations of our lives are the key to bringing passion to writing. You don’t have to be limited by what you’ve experienced, but rather bring what you have felt to newly imagined scenes. Maybe a character in your story is to be murdered. You may not know what it feels like to have a friend killed. But you may have experienced the death of a loved one, and you can make the emotion of this experience apply.
After the jump: how to use peace in your writing.
Let’s remember Wordsworth’s quotation again, however. As he wrote, great writing does need the spontaneity and energy of “powerful feelings.” But that’s not all that great writing needs. The novels you love have a feeling of structure and design. The beginning hints expertly at what will come; the tropes and metaphors and symbols are consistent throughout. That kind of work can only come from thoughtful planning.
While inspiration and energy is crucial for a first draft, it is in the next drafts that peace is needed. Take a moment to step away from what you have worked on and think about what you want to achieve with it. Meditate on what is at the heart of the story and how you can draw that out more clearly and engagingly. This kind of thinking requires a more level head, or more tranquil thinking, than the feverish outpourings of your earlier efforts. It may seem less romantic to think about your writing in this way, but it’s this combination of hot and cold thought that just about all writers need to create memorable work.