For some people, being a writer is inevitable. I am probably one of those people. I have been avoiding it for years, and will either be a writer, or a failed writer. This I meet with shagrin. It’s not that I don’t want to be a writer. I– simply am, and these days it’s all about figuring out if I’m going to succeed or fail. Basically, if I fail at this, it cannot be because it was ‘never meant to be’. This is my vocation, and it’s up to me not to screw it up.
In this game, I do not think that being unpopular or even unread is a failure definition at this stage of my development (God help me). NO, for me, it is– can I produce quality work? Can I get it out there? Can I make this writing addiction work for my life– without wrecking other precious things? Can I stop being distracted by things that are fun but don’t matter– that I could easily steal away this opportunity?
No, it’s not that I think that if this one try is ruined that it is always ruined. The problem is, I know me. I get discouraged. The one thing I seem to have perfected is failure. Can I psych myself into having a chance at success if I manage to screw this one up? I like to think so. But I don’t want to find out. Because this time, the self destructive brat living inside my head won’t win.
I want to send her to hell to screw up the devil’s plans. She might actually enjoy that. 🙂 In fact– that sounds like a good story.
If there is anything I’ve learned from a cadre of writers and fans polite enough to let me hang around, it’s this. Use what you got– exploit it for the writing. Got a weakness– use it, it’s good for writing. Because everything– even you– especially you– is grist for the mill. Has your life sucked? Good for you, you already figured out that life doesn’t give you want you want. That puts you ahead of the game. The trick is, to look at it in such a way that doesn’t lead to the same failure over and over again. Trying to protect your pride is folly. But to take advantage of every screw up, embarassment, calamity and horror you’ve experienced is the only way to get good– and that means you have to get tough in a plastic way– like a reed, not the oak. Because an oak falls hard, and can only learn once.
But you still need your roots buried in the ground, or you have nothing to stand on, no lens through which to make sense of your experiences. Relativism will never improve your life. It will just make it easier for others to exploit you. Because those who pump it don’t believe it. They lie to themselves to make their lives work. Only the unsuccessful get close to living valueless lives.
Besides, that’s why most “literature” these days sucks. You can’t write a relativistic story with a satisfying ending, and you can’t live a life that has no set values, either. Even a successful criminal has values. (If you don’t believe me, read Frank Abagnale)This is not a coincidence. Because without morals or, if you must– ‘values’, there are no stakes, and your feelings are just floating in the ether making your life hell. That gauzy vagueness is not healthy for human beings. We need to know that something is true, and what is and is not permissible. Otherwise, we are in chaos– and failure is the ONLY option.
Sure sure, this doesn’t sound like putting pen to paper advice. But it is. This is the hard part. Learning the language and how it flows, and how to structure things– all those are easy– or at least, only require study and hard work. You can read Little, Brown, or The Chicago School or whomever is the gatekeeper for proper expression in your book. I’ll get around to it some day– I mostly steal from them in dribs and drabs– holding loyalty only to the oxford comma. 😉
No, it is this— the elements that make a story great, that keep it focused, that display your characters in vivid relief, and makes them sing, dance and in 3D… that is the hard part. Knowing when to quit is the really hard part. Though admittedly, that’s more of a personal foible related to “loves to hear herself type”. Still, it is so abstract and elementary that even materialists start sounding like philosophers of metaphysics when trying to explain it. Even undisputed masters of expression start falling into this trap. Samuel Delany comes to mind.
Many of them do this because they want a values-free discussion, to limit the listener in as few ways as possible. But me, who knows very little, has learned a bit about life, and quite a bit about story. The values free discussion is impossible– or at least, is sophistry by definition. I leave the rest to you- and a surprising amount of that depends on what kind of story you want to write. A story is about achieving the good or not achieving the good– or maybe sort of achieving the good. But there has to be a good… and it’s opposite. I’m tempted to say that the opposite of good is not bad, but indifferent. Just as the opposite of love is indifference. ‘Bad’ is a foil, a symbol for failure. But sometimes, it is Good VS Evil, and failure is not symbolic here. It is letting evil win. But letting evil win is indifference in action.
Not writing is letting evil win.