Do You Live in the Past, the Future, or the Eternal Now?

We humans have various ways of orienting ourselves in time. Some people seem to live in the past while others are oriented towards the future. Then we have the “live in the moment” types who believe we should look neither backward nor forward but concentrate only on the here and now. Because prestigious philosophies such as Buddhism promote this “being here” attitude as a form of great wisdom, the latter group often see themselves as uniquely enlightened.

Etching of Father Time and Marchers

Father Time may relentlessly march on, but people relate to time in different ways. (public domain image)

People of all kinds and ages fall into each of the orientations, but there are some groups where folks are more likely to have one preference or another. The elderly are most likely to spend a lot of time thinking about the past. They love to look back on their long lives and fondly remember the good times or shed a tear over some lasting sorrow. Reminiscing at length with anyone who will listen is a favoured pastime. You know, chatting about “the good old days.”

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Your Worldview Will Sneak into Your Novel

The Concept of “World” in a Novel

A novel’s “world” is the general impression readers absorb from the interwoven effects of plot, characters, authorial tone, atmosphere, and setting. Writers impart this vital yet elusive quality as their own worldview inevitably pervades the work. The process is partially inadvertent and the resulting worldview may differ somewhat from the worldview purposely expressed in the work. For example, authors who write religious thrillers may or may not be religious people themselves. An unbeliever’s attitude towards the clergy may lack the sympathy of a believer. We pick up the author’s “true” worldview by sensing their way of presenting the story. We detect subtle philosophical clues such as what an author chooses to emphasize and how they go about ordering events and tying the story together.

Yggdrasil by Oluf Olufsen Bagge 1847

Yggdrasil, the world tree, was the Nordic symbolic representation of the world. These days, worldview varies on an individual basis, but always has an underlying humanness shared by all. (Image: public domain)

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The Lonely Thinker’s Path

Nowadays, we strongly emphasize emotion. Our IQs seem to matter little while our EQs loom large. I thought it would be useful to remind ourselves of what it means to be a thinker.

Plato as Imagined by Raphael

With the emphasis now on feelings are we, as a society, losing sight of the value of thinking? (Image: public domain)

The Desire of Knowledge

French philosopher and spiritual writer Antonin Sertillanges writes: “The desire of knowledge defines our intelligence as a vital force … it is the thinker’s special characteristic to be obsessed by the desire for knowledge.”

In other words, for the thinker, the acquisition of knowledge is an emotionally important idea. It is what American psychologist Carl Rogers would call a “subjectively formed guiding principle.” This means acquiring knowledge is one of the primary objects of the thinker’s authentic will. The activity is not an add-on, an external “interest” he has acquired; it is a fundamental part of his self and personality. The behaviour will have been there from early childhood remaining unrecognized until the thinker matures and turns to matters that are more serious and noteworthy.

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How Creative People Think

Highly creative people are different from the average person. It is not that the typical man or woman on the street is not creative. It is just that the quality creator functions at a greater level of sophistication and (often) output.

Thoughtful Young Woman of Pompei

Creative people are both more flexible and more selective in the way they think. (Image: public domain.)

Three factors make these creators stand out.

First, such people possess the ability to think profitably by a variety of means. That is, they have at their disposal a range of thinking techniques. There is a characteristic flexibility to their thinking not usually seen in ordinary life. In most cases, they did not consciously acquire this powerful set of thought tools. They picked them up unknowingly as they pursued one interest or another. Often they have explored a series of interests. The primary thinking tools are contradictions, comparisons, images, and metaphors.

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The Nature of Genius

What is genius? There is no such thing in the usual usage of the word. Genius is a title we confer on those who do remarkable things in their field. It is like being knighted, made a Commander of the British Empire, or winning a lifetime achievement award. In a way similar to such honours, which persons are awarded the status of genius is largely a matter of circumstance.

Albert Einstein

Genius combines reason with imagination, a unity most easily seen in the visual arts, but also there in the ground-breaking work of scientists such as Albert Einstein. (Image: public domain.)

What we ultimately label as genius is the product of a highly evolved mind. We are not born with such minds. We acquire them through long effort. To become a genius one must pursue some line of enquiry, or some art, long enough and thoroughly enough to acquire a high degree of sophisticated knowledge. In turn, that accumulating knowledge generates increasingly powerful thinking about the enquiry or art. Creativity research has shown that the mind is self-organizing. The process of becoming skilled enough to earn the title “genius” happens without our conscious awareness.

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Art Imitates and Instructs

Yin Yang Tree

In a two-sided manner, artists imitate life while presenting a moral or aesthetic message. (Image: public domain.)

The Two Aspects of Art

Art has a dual role: to imitate life and to instruct. Nowhere in art is this duality more important than in the art of writing. Words can tackle complex issues in ways that painting, sculpting, or dance, simply cannot. This is not to suggest other art forms have nothing to say. It is just that writing goes beyond the brilliant snapshots of painting and sculpture, however perceptive, suggestive, and evocative they may be, and can pack more into a couple of hours exposure than any ballet or modern dance performance. Words transcend emotion, beauty, and grace to tackle the difficult worlds of abstract ideas and morality.

Does this seem beyond the concern of genre writers who may be working in, for example, the science fiction or fantasy categories? It simply is not so. As I have pointed out in my earlier post, “Indie Writers Are Artists Too,” even the most genre-oriented writers need to understand that everything they write has a message, even if they are unaware of what that message is. Good writers – good artists – take charge of their message to make sure their work says something they believe in.

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Indie Writers Are Artists Too

Brian S. Pratt

Fantasy author Brian S. Pratt is an excellent example of an indie writer who has achieved remarkable success.

All writing is a kind of art. The most popular forms (fantasy, for instance, or horror and vampire novels) are examples of folk art. They are to literature what country music is to classical. (That is, unless you happen to be Bram Stoker!) Indie writers can be rough around the edges, but they are artists nonetheless. If you are an indie, seeing yourself as an artist can help you take yourself – and your work – more seriously. Writers who take themselves seriously become better writers.

Writing about art has always been a popular pastime for artists of every kind, and a few philosophers as well. Younger indies, however, may not yet have seen much of this, so I will put a few choice tidbits on the table.

Tolstoy writes, “The business of art lies in just this, – to make that understood and felt which, in the form of an argument, might be incomprehensible and inaccessible…” For writers, this means the dramatizations of fiction can make clear what real life discussion, or even the carefully worded arguments of non-fiction, cannot. Fiction can arouse our emotions in just the right way to drive the point home.

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