Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

You Are God

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Writing is all on the page. Take most other arts: film, music, painting, and what goes into the making of each – the processes, the materials, the effort, are not obvious, are not laid out bare. There’s a mystery, a secret, to their creation that isn’t there for writing. For film it’s lighting, acting, post-processing, music, special effects, editing. For music its technique, instruments, recording methods. For painting it’s canvas and pigments and brushes. Writing is exactly what you see. It is only what’s there.
 
I can take a piece of writing – a short story by Alice Munro, say – and reproduce it exactly, so that the copy is indistinguishable from the original. In fact, it will always be the original. What I’ve done by reproducing it is no different than what the printer has done in creating a book.
 
What this means is that the written word is explicit and complete on the page. We can dissect and study it. The materials that comprise it are wholly within our grasp. In this way it is the most egalitarian of forms.
 
And yet there is mystery in its construction. How did Ms. Munro come to place those letters, those words, just so, in such a way that they create within us, the readers: images, thoughts, emotions? There is a magic, an alchemy, in all this. In a sense it’s like an optical illusion, an Escher print. We see the lines laid out on the page, can see how they are arranged. If we look closely enough, we see the construction. But when we move back and the image resolves, we are left with something that is greater than the sum of its parts, and it startles us, it defies explanation.
 
Remember that when you are writing, you are using the most fundamental materials, like the periodic table, the 90 naturally-occuring elements that comprise reality. You are creating in the mind of the reader from the 26 letters and a handful of punctuation: pictures, people, whole worlds. The power to manufacture these things, to convince your readers that they are – at least temporarily – real, is an astonishing feat, and a staggering responsibility.
 
Writing makes you into god. Go forth and create.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Brian Panhuyzen

Brian Panhuyzen is the author of the short-story collection The Death of The Moon (Cormorant, 1999) and a novel, The Sky Manifest (ECW, 2013).

Go to Brian Panhuyzen’s Author Page