A world unfinished

By David E P Dennis

When you write a book – fact or fiction – you are making a world. You are a creator. You have an idea, you develop it, write it, check it and get it printed. Your world for now, is complete.

Allegorically or metaphorically to the Western Mind – God made the world in six days and on the seventh He rested. It takes much longer to write a book.

However, when you compare the number of authors/writers who have started a book but not finished, with the number of those brave souls who have created and completed their world, then you are left gasping with dismay. Many billions of starts are made, compared with millions of completions. This essay looks at some of the reasons why.

Development of the book
You lay in the bath. You sit on a seat in the garden under the seminal apple tree – an idea forms. It truly is a great idea! You will write a book about how the world discovered coffee!  You want to make it a Costa prizewinner of course, so it will be a fictional account about a far-seeing Sufi holy man in the Yemen who knows that the strange plant when made into a drink brings enlightenment.

You know that coffee came from the Yemen and the Horn of Africa and was used in religious ceremonies hundreds of years ago. You do some research and find that Ethiopia and Turkey – great coffee producers and drinkers nowadays once banned the drink as being sacrilegious. You draft an idea in your mind that your character – called Ahmad the Sufi, goes to Ethiopia to advocate the effect on the human mind of coffee and gets pelted with stones, so flees by boat and eventually makes his way by sea and land to Turkey, where he tells them about the blessing of coffee. Instead of stoning him they listen and revise their stance. They now love coffee.

Coffee 2 brochure

Then, when the Turks invade Europe, they bring huge stocks of coffee to the gates of Vienna in 1683, where the European armies stop them and defeat them. As the Turkish Army flees it leaves all its vast coffee stock, which is taken into the gates of Vienna and a wave of European coffee drinking begins.  Finally, in St Mark’s Square Venice, the first coffee pot appears and Canaletto is there to paint the scene. The painting ends up in the National Gallery in London and Ahmad the Sufi becomes a world hero.

You slosh a bit more hot water into your bath and think over the idea of your book. You consider Vienna. You remember another artist called Klimpt, who was part of an art movement called the Secession. Then the fatal change occurs. You think to yourself – maybe I’d better not do the Sufi story because the effect of coffee on the Secessionists would be more interesting.

You have now failed to write a book. You have drifted off subject. The book about the Sufi will never be written unless you sit down and write it – all of it. Otherwise it is just an ‘idea’ not a book.

Don’t tell people you are a writer or author unless you have had a deep personal conversation with yourself about the twin Pillars of Wisdom: persistence and volition.

Volition makes you start and persistence enables you to finish.

The secret of your success or failure as an author is contained in a book called the Thesaurus.

Here’s what it says:

Assiduous, determined, dogged, enduring, fixed, immovable, indefatigable, obdurate, obstinate, persevering, pertinacious, resolute, steadfast, steady, stiff-necked, stubborn, tenacious, tireless, unflagging

You get the idea…

And now to the antonym:
Changeable, flexible, irresolute, tractable, yielding, inconstant, intermittent, irregular, occasional, off-and-on, periodic…

So, you can see why it is that many authors who do complete their books thank their husbands, wives and families for their ‘patience and understanding’ about the period you locked yourself away for two years to write ‘Ahmed the Sufi Discovers Coffee’ and win the Costa Prize.

But what about volition? What makes you turn an idea into a product? Volition is a neurochemical transaction that turns inertia or stasis into new action. How many times have you laid in bed and then, without knowing why, you suddenly get up! Surely you didn’t think that you needed to get up, but you did. The mind acts faster than the brain’s echo can tell you it has received a decision.

What does the Thesaurus say about volition?

Choice, choosing, determination, discretion, election, free will, option, preference, purpose, resolution, will

Using your brain
What is the neurochemistry of the will to action? The transition from inaction to desire and from desire to action is a complicated process of neuronal pathways and connections from and to various parts of the brain. Dopamine, acetylcholine and glutamate seem to be involved.

Scientists say that monosodium glutamate is found in tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, potatoes, mushrooms, and other vegetables and fruits. It is a white, odorless, crystalline powder.  In solution it dissociates into glutamate and sodium ions naturally. There is a tendency by westerners to think that it causes headaches, but scientists point out that if that was so then everyone in China would have a headache every day.

The will to action
A simplified view of the will to action is that we need food, shelter and a mate and these are rewards. The basal ganglia of the brain calculate that an action will lead to a reward – for example, monkey gets banana. So having volition to complete a book depends on your view of reward.

An ape will spend a long time using a stick to poke an insect out of a crevice to eat it, or will use great cunning to raid a plantation to obtain bananas. Since you are an advanced type of ape, can you see that your effort to research, draft, correct, finalise, proof-read, advocate, get published, market and book-sign are worth the effort to get that banana?

What is the banana? Self-respect, pride, joy, relief, admiration, money, security or intellectual satisfaction? What motivates you to persist? If you don’t think deeply about these reward concepts, you will never finish your book.

If you experience a cornucopia of ideas that pulse through your brain and each of them has equal weight, you will never be a writer. Discovering a great idea means finding something worth being persistent – it means seeing it through. Does your idea have enough potential? Can you live with it, or will the concept die in your own mind half-way through writing because it just wasn’t a good enough idea – you didn’t truly own it, love it, want it – it was not enough reward for the basal ganglia to keep firing.

Why don’t you have another cup of coffee while you think about all this? Do you want to be a writer? Have you got the guts to climb up the intellectual Everest in front of you?

The active ingredient of coffee is caffeine. Scientists tell us that is a bitter, white crystalline purine, a methylxanthine alkaloid, and is closely related chemically to the adenine and guanine contained in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA).

It is almost as though you are made of coffee. Try telling this to Costa – and win a prize!

Good luck in all you do!  But…make sure you do it!

And for those of you who are now thinking of your next cuppa, be mindful of these wise words…



Some sort of smeared
memory from yesterday,
now a hearth in which to
burn cognition’s flame.
Some sort of aroma
to filter dim shaft-lights
of limited awareness.
Some sort of sugar-shovel
to scoop up struggling sentience.
Some sort of saucer to
pool dripped expressions
of conscious thought.
Some boat-spoon to float,
stir, archetypal ideas,
themes, slow awakening,
through dry neuron-sticks
into a pit of grounds.
Making, on the bottom
of today’s first cup
a pale-brown
patterned recognition.

© David E P Dennis






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