Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The secret to writing fiction

"You only learn to be a better writer by writing. I don't know much about creative writing programs. But they're not telling the truth if they don't teach, one, that writing is hard work and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer." ~Doris Lessing

Every so often (okay, just about every day) I have this little crisis of faith with regards to writing. What am I doing, is this any good, why didn't I go to law school like my dad wanted. I ask myself: are you happy doing this? The answer is yes, most of the time. I love writing poems and in my journal and these rambling blog posts that mean nothing. Fiction? Fiction is different. Fiction, to me, is like a sleight of hand that I haven't yet perfected. When I'm writing here or in my journal, the only person I have to convince is myself. With fiction, the trick is to convince everyone else.

I came to writing late. At 24, most of my writing experience was limited to what my college courses required. I could write a pretty decent critical essay for English Lit but I had no experience with "creative writing". Then, one day, completely on a whim I said, "I know, I'll write a poem." So I did and yes, it was terrible. But the next day, I wrote another one and the day after that, and so on. Then, I thought, "I know, I'll write a novel." So I started writing it. It was a totally cliched idea that I won't even share with you here for fear of being laughed out of the blogosphere but you get the picture. I had no idea what I was doing but how hard could it be?

Fast forward a bit. I'm still writing, although not every day. At this point, writing's kind of like a hobby, this little thing I do when the mood hits. I'm still working on the "novel" and in the meantime, I get an idea for a short story. I write it, I revise it, I send it out, and....of course, it is soundly rejected. At the time, I thought it was the end of the world but now I can see all the flaws that I was blind to then.

A year goes by. I'm getting bored with the first thing I started and so I get another idea, a this-is-going-to-be-an-instant-bestseller idea. I start writing. I write some more. This one ends up on the shelf with the other one, abandoned and half-finished. Of course it stinks just as bad but I can't really see that yet. I write some more poems. These are marginally better than those first ones. Another year goes by.

Most of 2004 passes with me writing in spurts, here and there. I get bored with something and start something else. I end up with a huge pile of unfinished, undeveloped junk. I submit some of my poems, which I consider to be earthshakingly brilliant, and am rejected, again. In December of 2004, I write a short story in three days, with no clue what I'm doing. I submit it to a contest. Seven months later, I find out I win. In September 2005, I officially become a Published Author. I don't write much else for the rest of the year.

Skip to 2006. I tell myself that this year, it will be different. I will write poems and stories and a novel. I will work at it every day. I will devote myself to writing. It will become my sacred cow. So, how's all that working out for me, you ask? Well....

When I first started writing, I didn't realize the amount of practice, effort, and skill that it required. I went into it without really knowing what I wanted to say or how I wanted to say it. I wrote things that were amateurish, lacking depth. I didn't take writing seriously, I hadn't developed a passion for it. I didn't realize that it is an art and like any art, it takes time and energy and yes, talent.

I know that at 27, I'm getting started late. I know that there are younger writers out there who are doing it way better than me. I know that I need a lot more practice, maybe years of practice, before I'll be any good. I know that in the end, I may never get good at it. I know that I could quit and no one would be hurt by it except maybe myself. I know that I still have a lot to learn.

The secret to writing fiction? That's one I haven't figured out yet. But I'm working on it.

13 Comments:

Blogger michelle said...

when you figure it out, let me know. -=o)

5/31/2006 9:00 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

When I figure it out, I plan to shout it from the rooftops.

5/31/2006 9:02 PM  
Blogger Voix said...

Dude. I'm 33 and I just started a couple of years ago.

The ecret is this: Don't stop. Whatever you do, don't stop writing. Then you'll learn everything you need to learn.

Simple, see?

5/31/2006 9:54 PM  
Blogger Kate S. said...

Twenty-seven isn't so late to start. Think of amazing writers like Alice Munro -- she started writing at 20 and her first book wasn't published until she was in her mid-thirties. The wunderkinds with best-selling, award winning novels in their twenties get a lot of press but they are definitely not the norm. I did go to law school and I sometimes worry about making up for lost time in my fiction writing. But I'm always comforted by the knowledge that writing a field in which one generally improves with age. If my ambition was to be a gymnast or a model, it would have passed me by long ago. But as a writer, I can aspire to write fabulous books in my eighties like Muriel Spark did.

5/31/2006 9:54 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

I know I just have to stick with it. It's just that every time Zadie Smith publishes another book I want to jump off a building. (She's only a year or two older than me.) Then I remember that I don't read pretentious crap like that anyway. (My apologies to all the Zadie Smith fans.) I know that everybody learns at their own pace but damn, sometimes you just want to kick it in the ass and say get on with it, you know?

And Michele, dear one, I naturally assumed you came out of the womb writing. You are a born writer, even if it took you awhile to get started.

5/31/2006 10:01 PM  
Anonymous Neil said...

My feeling is that if you're comparing yourself to other writers, you're just setting yourself up for misery. You're supposed to be writing because you enjoy the process, not to prove that you can Beat Zadie Smith. Mozart wrote a symphony when he was five years old. Other composers were still able to write music after him. Are you impressed because someone lost their virginity before you? Does that make you upset because someone started earlier than you?

Everything at your own pace. Everything else doesn't really matter.

6/01/2006 9:15 AM  
Blogger Justin Evans said...

Secret? There's a secret?

This is the story of my life. Nobody ever let's me join the club.

Hell, I fall in and out of love with writing on a daily basis. Maybe what I am trying to say is if you agonize over writing this much, you really shouldn't worry about any secrets, because you care enough to keep at it, which will make you better.

__________________

No offense to Kate, but if you went to law school, it sounds as if you would have to sell more of your life than you have had to in order to become a writer. The law is fine, if it's something you can enjoy, but pure hell if it goes against your grain.

6/01/2006 9:25 AM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

All I was really trying to say is that I'm new to this game, I'm still trying to figure it out, and a lot of it is scary. It's hard to do something when you come to it raw, without any kind of training or experience. Every day I say I'm going to quit but I don't mean it and at this point, I don't think I could even if I did. I have no idea where this writing thing is going to go, if anywhere, but I want to find out. That, I think, is part of the secret.

6/01/2006 10:41 AM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

And if I had gone to law school, I probably would have jumped off a building already. (No offense to Kate, people who jump off buildings, and lawyers everywhere.)

6/01/2006 10:44 AM  
Blogger Susan said...

I will echo the chorus: 27 is not late!! I started writing fiction when I was 30 and I'm still just learning. A lot of years later.

6/01/2006 9:54 PM  
Blogger January said...

Remember, this is a journey, not a race.

It's a daily struggle for me to stay motivated and to stay focused. But there's no substitute for hard work and persistence. And we belong to a fabulous community of writers and bloggers who can pick us up when we're down.

6/03/2006 12:42 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

I'm in it for the long haul but sometimes my instant gratification sensor kicks in and I want it "now, now, now!". Sometimes I'm the hare when I should be the tortoise.

As for all those other writers and bloggers, that is so true. There's so much inspiration out there it makes me want to work that much harder so I can be half as good as some of them.

6/03/2006 2:18 PM  
Anonymous Kelly in Nebraska said...

You said: "Every day I say I'm going to quit but I don't mean it and at this point, I don't think I could even if I did."

Maybe it is time to stop saying it.

6/05/2006 1:57 PM  

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