True Alchemists Do Not Change Lead into Gold Unless They’re Using Old Pencils

true alchemists don't change william h gass quote

I love the fact that the printing press set in the background is made out of lead.

I want to be a true alchemist when I grow up. Not that I’ll ever grow up, but there’s something inspiring about thinking of writing as alchemy (especially if you like FullMetal Alchemist). Not only because of the transformation aspect – although having the scientific knowledge and/or mystical ability to change lead into gold is appealing, especially applied to writing. Thinking that my writing skills can “change the world into words” is pretty heady (true or not).

But that’s still not the main reason I like this analogy. No, the best part of this metaphor (IMHO) is the fact that alchemy was all about exploration. Back in its heyday, true alchemists spent their time trying to accomplish the impossible. If one attempt or combination didn’t work, they tried something else.

In a way, alchemy was mankind’s way of reconciling spiritual beliefs with science. And while we may laugh at alchemists’ efforts to make the philosopher’s stone or change lead into gold, those explorations led to the development of scientific theory and helped direct science as we know it today (strange thought, wot?).

Now, take a moment and think about that idea in terms of the writing analogy.

Isn’t exploration a major part of writing growth? And don’t we have to constantly have to reconcile the rules and logic of writing (science) with the emotion of it (spiritual)? I think so. I think that makes this analogy a very deep and thoughtful description of what gives writing such power and also what makes it so difficult.

We transform things, yes. We try to capture the world in words. But we also play a very delicate balancing act (or sometimes a vicious war) between the art and the science of writing.

We explore. Through trial and error we find new stories and new ways to tell them. We are true alchemists just as William Glass said. We try to accomplish the impossible, and success has all the magic of alchemy.

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