Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

About two weeks ago I finished an interesting non-fiction book written by Eric G. Wilson, an English professor at Wake Forest University, and which will come out later this spring from the University of Iowa Press. I wrote a more formal review at Necessary Fiction, but thought I’d mention it here as well.

The book is called My Business is to Create: Blake’s infinite writing and it was an interesting combination of scholarly analysis of William Blake’s poetry and art with a kind of writer’s handbook. Wilson traces a ‘method,’ if you will, inspired by Blake, that he thinks creative types might find useful. I like the thought of combining these two ideas because I can see how close reading and literary analysis can be inspiring and, apparently, as Wilson points out, William Blake has been a source of inspiration for musicians, artists and writers for hundreds of years.

There was also something quite moving about Wilson’s evident admiration for Blake. I get that when you’ve studied someone for a very long time, you kind of can’t help becoming their champion. Not that Blake wouldn’t deserve this anyway, but Wilson’s esteem for Blake’s artistic fervor infused the book with a lot of earnest energy.

I know only a little about William Blake, so the biographical information and excerpts that Wilson provide are fascinating. I can see how across the centuries Blake has become a kind of mythical figure—the perfect stereotype of the struggling artist. A little bit crazy, a little bit eccentric, but touchingly devoted to his life’s work.

And Wilson is really serious about the method part. He traces out a way of conceiving of yourself as an artist and a way of developing a process of intense but ultimately liberating self-criticism. Underneath all of this is the simple truth that all art takes an immense amount of work and personal energy.

My Business is to Create is a slim little book, just under 100 pages, and Wilson’s writing is lively, if, at times, a little overly poetic, sacrificing clarity for exuberance. Ultimately, however, I found it an engaging and thought-provoking read.

7 Responses to “Eric G. Wilson – My Business is to Create”

  1. jacob Russell

    “sacrificing clarity for exuberance…”

    Exuberance is Beauty, says Blake!
    When a drunken soldier stumbled into his garden, Blake gave him a good trashing…

    When there’s a soldier in the Garden of World, pray Blake will be at your side…

  2. litlove

    Mister Litlove’s grandfather was a big Blake officionado – had original paintings on his walls and first editions and was one of the founders of some important Blake society in the UK. So I can never hear about him without thinking of all that! It’s intriguing to bind together creative writing instruction with the work of a famous author – scope there for a series, no? Those with the right kind of mother could write inspired by Proust’s methods (would you have to have a cork-lined room?) or eat enough sugar to make yourself thoroughly sick before creating and follow Nietzsche’s example!

  3. Annie

    I love Blake too. If you want to know more about him, there is a biography by Peter Ackroyd, although I’m not well up enough on either Blake or the period to know if it is a good one. This is a book I must definitely get hold of though. It sounds the type of work that would really set your mind going in new directions.

  4. Michelle

    Jacob – I can see I’m dealing with a true fan! I am very curious to read Blake’s poetry. Perhaps you might give me an idea where to start.

    Lilian – Thank you for the comment here and over at NF.

    Litlove – In fact, this book is part of the University of Iowa’s Muse series. I’m not sure whether all the books are like this one (famous author etc) or just in some way deal with craft. And I certainly like your ideas for further books 🙂

    Annie – Wilson mentions the Peter Ackroyd biography a few times, so I suspect it is a good one. I’m interested in reading it, and also Blake of course. If you do read Wilson’s book, I’d be very curious to see what you have to say about it.

  5. Stefanie

    What an interesting sounding book. I never would have thought about using Blake to teach artistic creation, he’s always seemed to me to be so violently out there, but I suppose in the right hands it could work. And it sounds like this does.

  6. Dorothy W.

    This book sounds great. I love books that mix criticism with … something else, whether it’s personal narrative, or ideas about creativity and writing, or whatever. Creative criticism — that’s what I mean, I guess.

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