Within the confines of 85 pages, Eric Wilson’s My Business Is to Create: Blake’s Infinite Writing offers a cornucopia for the aspirant writer. The tiny book defies conventional categories, much like its subject, William Blake (1757 – 1827). A Blake biography, a creative writing manual, and a map of influences, epigrams, and philosophy all come into play.
William Blake was a poet and artist living in the Britain, who, like his contemporary the Marquis de Sade (1740 – 1814), lived between the Age of Enlightenment and the Romantic Era. Blake grew up as a Christian Nonconformist and struggled with making a living. In the introductory chapter, we see how Blake’s innovative printing method took a fatal toll. Despite his relatively short life, Blake produced a body of work, visual and textual, that has evaded critics and scholars for centuries. His work is simultaneously religious, visionary, sexual, satirical, and politically radical. His self-created mythology is labyrinthine and sensational, with references to everything from political events of the day to Biblical figures and a stylized visual style reminiscent of Michelangelo.
How does this figure into the process of creative writing? One of Wilson’s assertions is that all writing is revision, not simply rewriting the first draft. Put simply: “Writing is rewriting, and vision revision.” Wilson, like Blake, has a gift for the epigrammatic. Using the crude tools of language, the writer must endlessly toil in an attempt to create the sublime. While Wilson avoids telling the writer how to create visionary works, he re-emphasizes the need for the writer to go beyond measured and observable phenomena. He borrows Blake’s term, calling it “the ratio.” Blake’s mythology had Urizen, the scientific dictator who set up barriers and limits. Nevertheless, Wilson (and for that matter, Blake) are not idealist reactionaries, since they understand the need for figures like Urizen. Visionary writing needs to be corralled and sculpted, or else it is a loose and sloppy structure.
Wilson’s book is a fresh burst of creative energy within the overcrowded field of creative writing books. He also penned a volume that stands out from the usual dross occupying the field, since some books read like dispatches from The Sausage Factory or self-help books masquerading as creative writing books. In the end, the demands of a publisher or agent shouldn’t matter. The writer should write what he or she wants to write, giving free rein to their visionary impulses. Only when writers become too self-obsessed over how many pages a chapter should have or what agents or publishers really like these days (if your name isn’t Snooki, don’t concern yourself), do writers end up producing tedious prose that sounds beige and forgettable. As Blake said in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “Damn braces, bless relaxes.”