Finding the Words

a blog devoted to the art, craft, and frustration of writing

A solitary endeavor June 25, 2007

Filed under: writing — itsy @ 2:34 pm

I’ve been anguishing about my writing lately, and whenever this happens, I seek affirmation. It must be an ugly sight. Nightly I crawl into Ryan’s lap, or lay my head on his shoulder, give him my puppy-dog eyes and say, “I can’t do this! I’m not good enough!” He knows the drill, and, bless his heart, plays his part without an inkling of exasperation (I knew I chose the right man!) “Of course you can,” he says. “You’re a terrific writer, and you’re so dedicated.” I’m reassured enough to sleep.

By morning, the insecurities have returned, and I call my writing friend. Same thing: “I can’t do this! My story sucks!” She, too, patiently comforts me. I always hang up the phone feeling relieved, back on course. But within a few hours I’m up pacing the floor, berating myself. What was I thinking, trying to write fiction? The arrogance! The stupidity! Starbucks is hiring–I should just go work there, for crying out loud!

After I talk myself out of that I refocus, and sit down at the computer. And of course, nothing has changed. I’m faced once again with a story that’s floundering, a plot that’s flopping about, and characters that are running amok. And today I’m struck by how isolating writing is, not just because the writing lifestyle demands long days spent cooped up indoors, crouched over a keyboard. Rather, I realize I am alone in this. No one else has ever told this story, and no one else can because it is my story to tell. I can scream and whimper and find shoulders to cry on, but there is no one else. No one can write it for you, no one can understand your characters or give you that one element that somehow you know you are missing. It’s entirely up to you. This concept scares the crap out of me; at the same time, I think it’s what keeps me writing and exploring, the thought that both the product and the struggle are uniquely mine.

 

Down, you! June 22, 2007

Filed under: writing — itsy @ 6:00 pm

Okay, reworking my first drafts of my first two novels, and this one character man, he’s getting on my nerves. He was supposed to be a minor character, a friend to my protagonist, but twice now he’s taken over my entire story. I’m wondering if I should just scrap everything I’ve written to date and write _his_ story, since he’s so eager for the lime light. The only problem is it would be entirely different from what I’ve imagined, and I don’t even know what the story would be about. Him discovering himself, I guess. But I don’t know what to do. It’s always cool when characters act in unexpected ways; I feel as if I’ve done my job in creating thinking, breathing people, but sometimes, sometimes I just feel like murdering them all, the unruly little bastards.

 

a brief rant… and thoughts on negative space June 14, 2007

Filed under: writing — itsy @ 12:50 pm

Gosh, it’s been forever since I last posted. I’m still plonking away, not quite making the plunge into rewriting, but certainly dipping my toe in it. In the meantime I’ve decided to write some short stories. Partly because they intrigue me–it’s a form I’ve never quite gotten a grasp on, and I’m finding the challenge motivating. Partly because I can submit them to magazines, and at least have something published (crossing my fingers!)

All that aside, I’ve been feeling a little frustrated with my writing group lately. They are all wonderful people and good writers. Maybe it would be more correct to say my dissatisfaction is a bit more general, not directed to the specific people involved. Sometimes the group swoops in on a piece, dissects it, and I feel clarified. Recently it’s been feeling like they swoop in, and come up with all these nit picky little things. They question everything. “This seems out of character.” Um, yeah, that’s kind of the point. “You should write, ‘He felt angry.'” What, the fact that he was gritting his teeth and cursing the other person didn’t clue you in? “It seems like they’ve been walking a long time.” Maybe because they have a long way to walk! “I’d expect her to cry about something as upsetting as this.” But she doesn’t, so what does that tell you about her personality?

Okay, I’m sniping here, but I was puzzled by their confusion. I wanted to remind them about Occam’s Razor. “That phrase makes her sound bitter.” Well, the logical conclusion should be that she _is_ bitter, right?

I’m beginning to think writing fiction is partly about removing and dismantling expectations and presuppositions. Readers jump to conclusions. You have to give them enough to stop them from jumping to the wrong ones. Maybe my writing is simply not authorative, descriptive, or clear enough. With the novella I’m working on now I’ve developed an oddly minimalist style, which is running me into trouble. People like things, objects, and their minds strive to fill in all the holes. I’d like to keep the style–it’s fun weeding through all the crap that I could write, and decided just the most important descriptions or aspects. Maybe I’ve gone to far? After all, if no one understands your writing, you’ve sort of failed in your mission as a writer. “Is there a chandelier? A fire??” one of my critiquers wrote, “Chairs? Tables rugs walls? Seems like they’re floating…”

No, when I say they ate dinner, I think we can assume they are at a table, sitting on chairs, probably on a floor of some sort, in the house that they entered at the beginning of the last scene. Should I put all of that in? I like the concept of making the reader meet you half way, but it seems I haven’t found my balance. I’m struggling with this, the mundane details vs. what we might consider essential. I mean, who really cares if there’s a rug underfoot? Yeah, it would be nice to know. Yeah, it might help create a mental picture of the scene in your head, which some people argue is one of the primary goals of fiction, but wouldn’t you rather have a moment of clarity when an aspect of the character is brought into intense focus, revealing some new insight? Those moments would be lost, I theorize, if everything else in the room is equally focused. By writing less, I’m actually able to say more. I didn’t anticipate how much this would confuse people. Maybe we are too used to stuff cluttering up our senses.

But I like negative space. We’re not used to thinking about it, but what’s not written is just as important as what is.