“But still you must understand that knowledge is neither a tower nor a well, but a human habitation.” These inspiring words belong to French philosopher and spiritual writer, Antonin Sertillanges. He means we must not regard knowledge as something external to ourselves, something to which we refer or draw upon from time to time. Knowledge must be more personal than that, more intimate and immediate. We must embody what we know and literally live our day to day lives according to our own set of authentically preferred truths.
A biographer has suggested that Chekhov had no world view and was thus free of illusions. But what is the cost? (Image: public domain)
For Sertillanges, having a philosophical frame of reference is essential. “It is undeniably useful to possess, as early as possible, even if at starting [one’s intellectual life] if it may be, a body of directive ideas forming a whole, and capable, like the magnet, of attracting and subordinating to itself all our knowledge. The man without some such equipment is, in the intellectual universe, like the traveller who easily falls into scepticism through getting to know many dissimilar civilizations and contradictory doctrines.
We can accomplish nothing in life without an idea. However, before we can successfully act, we must have a clear concept of what we are trying to accomplish, a concept that goes beyond the basic idea itself to encompass the entire endeavour. This may sound obvious, but the point is this: using ideas is more complicated than having just one and then vaguely trying to do something with it.
To succeed as a writer you need more than just a notebook full of story ideas. You also need a clear idea of where you are going with your writing.
Many writers, for example, have plenty of ideas for stories and novels; yet never manage to do anything with them. Their work falters for want of a central, organizing, and motivating idea of what they are doing and why they are doing it. They write, not for well-understood reasons, but because they think they like the work, hope to make some money, and yearn for fame or respect. Unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent that there are other enjoyable things to do, far easier and more reliable ways to make money, and fame is famously elusive. They fall by the wayside. As it happens, thinking, hoping, and yearning are not powerful enough reasons for doing anything, let alone tackling a tough long-term project that requires hard work and dedication.