I just caught the NPR Fresh Air segment from last year when they re-aired it the other night. It’s Terry Gross interviewing David Mitchell, author of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Wander on over to NPR and give it a listen to hear Mitchell’s words on writing and overcoming obstacles.
Below is a transcried section from the interview that really spoke to me about the art of writing. In it, Mitchell refers to art as something you can fall in love with, which implies to me that it has a soul of its own. Very intriguing…
“Art isn’t the what, art is the how.” – David Mitchell
“I think it’s natural for youth to be drawn to newness because the world is still new for them, and there’s the feeling that you can take part in shaping it and changing it and turning it into something new in your image but then you age, inevitably. I look in the mirror now and I think, ‘Wow, it’s Dad!’ And I am a Dad now, and I am a husband, and these sort of messy human muddy scenes become much more interesting. And you also realize that structure, originality, and innovation is not actually a story. They’re useful ingredients for art, but it’s not art itself, not really. You might be able to admire it but you certainly can’t fall in love with it, as a piece of music of as a piece of narrative.
You go back, in a way, to older, more traditional forms. You also come to accept that, actually, Shakespeare cleaned everything up. There’s no new turf after him, really. All the postmodern themes, the play within the play, metafiction, it’s already been done in the seventeenth century. You can’t win! But art isn’t the what, art is the how.
Lowell said this really well; ‘If you try to write about the universe, you’ll end up staring at the bricks at the bottom of your garden. But if you start with those bricks, you may well end up writing something new with the universe.’ Start with the people. People are why I fall in love with a book. If you start there then you can kind of allow ideas, and maybe allow innovation and a new structure to sort of grow organically from these stem cells of people. But I think you need to start with the people and how they interact, which is your plot.”
To hear the entire interview, plus an excerpt from Mitchell’s new novel, click here!