Transitions are Rough

I mentioned some time back that I’m going through changes in my writing, including a return to nonfiction by writing articles on Wizzley. I’m also doing a lot of introspecting about my fiction and feeling rather discouraged about it. One of my blog readers has been a tremendous help with the structural aspects of my novels and stories, but that’s led, as an unexpected side effect to questioning the very existence of those works. More accurately, their value.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a home with an excellent library, with parents who were readers and who didn’t place any restrictions on what I could read. One of the results was that I developed almost a worship of novelists, and aspired to be one myself. It took a while to get around to fulfilling that ambition, but I finally did it. And now I’m questioning it because I didn’t want to be just a novelist; I wanted to be a great one.

I’m a pretty good writer. I’m not going to be shy about it. I’m still learning, but on the whole, my writing is polished, fairly free of grammar faults, and I’ve been told I have a flair for dialogue. But that isn’t enough to distinguish good writers from excellent writers. Not when it comes to fiction. I’m not an excellent fiction writer, and I’m beginning to think I never will be. That won’t stop me from writing, or continuing to learn more about the craft of fiction, but it does mean I have to re-examine my goals.

The hand slaves universe still has a lot to offer, but it can’t go as deeply into serious issues as I’d like, and that makes it little more than entertainment. As I turn away from what is essentially fantasy and toward science fiction, the novels that I’ve already developed and the one that is published tell me that I don’t have the mysterious something that makes books stand out in the reader’s mind. They are all handicapped by my logical and rational approach to my writing. What they need is a heightened, even an exaggerated, view of reality, one that allows for drama and emotional connections. I lack the ability to write that way, and I don’t know if it’s something I can learn. We write best in the ways that are natural to us, and logic and rationality are what’s natural to me.

So here I am, figuring out what to do next. Continue as is with the novels I’ve started, or try to expand my creative horizon as I work on them?  Or abandon fiction and concentrate on nonfiction?

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17 thoughts on “Transitions are Rough

    1. That’s really complicated, and I’m not sure happiness is the right measure. I’m more likely to resist completing a piece of nonfiction, but there’s real satisfaction in laying it out so that it’s clear and informative. I haven’t really made much effort in the direction of doing what’s difficult for me in fiction, I’m still trying to verbalize exactly what it is I need to do, but even more, *how* to do it.

      I just started working on a new short story or novella, and here’s a note I made to myself: “If I can’t make myself let go, this is going to be another logically developed and comparatively dull story. Every good sf novel that I read plays with and enhances reality rather than merely trying to show it. I’m too self-controlled.” It’s literally trying to force my brain to do something that’s not natural to it. I see it as a lack of imagination. It would be completely impossible for me to write fantasy, for instance, because I just can’t imagine the kinds of elements that make up fantasy.

      I’m having vague thoughts of experimenting with a hybrid of fiction and nonfiction, but that’s barely a whisper right now.

  1. Hey Catana,
    I think all writers have doubts like yours. Even successful writers are continuing to learn something new every day, regarding the craft.

    It’s cool that you’re good with dialogue. People say the same thing about me. The major feedback I receive from critique partners–lack of emotions within my characters. That’s why I usually have to do a massive rewrite to include narration about feelings, instead of just what the characters are experiencing.

    You’re right. Authors tend to write what they know. That’s why I’m always researching and observing people. I’m sure I’ll never be an emotional person, so I have to learn it somehow.

    Keep smiling,
    Yawatta

    1. You hit the nail right on the head. We can’t depend on just the things that we’re good at. We have to work to learn the things we aren’t good at. I’ve had to work on giving my characters emotions, just like you. An early critique of one of my novels still in the WIP stage was that it seemed to take place in a vacuum — no real sense of the space the characters were in. I’ve worked hard on that, and now it comes easier. I just hope I can do the same thing again. My drafts are a process of adding what’s lacking, so this is one more problem to work out, if I can.

      I keep thinking about writing a post about the need to go beyond grammar, word usage, sentence structure, pacing, etc. What I’m dealing with right now is a good example of “beyond the basics.”

      1. Hey Catana,
        “Working beyond the basics” would be a very good post to write. Other writers could relate 🙂 And for the emotional people, they could probably offer tips in the comment section.

        Keep smiling,
        Yawatta

  2. Wow, that sounds like a hard place to be: questioning the foundation of what you’re doing.

    I wonder if you’ve ever allowed yourself to do stream-of-consciousness writing? It can be very freeing and might help you get in touch with the non-logical side of yourself. You might not actually use anything that comes of it, but it might open a channel to something that you didn’t realize was there. It may sound bizarre, but what I sometimes do is turn off all the lights and close my eyes and just type. (I am a pretty good touch typist.) It lets me get into a mental space that’s hard to access when I’m looking at the words coming out.

    …just a crazy idea!

    1. P.S. Interestingly, I don’t seem to have a hard time with the emotional side of writing, but I have a heck of a time with plot and dialogue–for me, those are the big hurdles! We all have our demons to overcome.

    2. LOL! If I typed with my eyes closed, I might not be able to read it back. I’ve done stream of consciousness writing in the past. Sometimes it was very helpful, and sometimes it was a big fat zero. What I think might work better for me these days, is letting myself get in that frame of mind while I’m actually working on a WIP. I’ve been sort of vaguely meandering around with that idea, but you sharpened it up. Thanks.

        1. I like that — focused channeling. I’m a never-give-up kind of person, so no danger there. But it’s good to have support from other writers.

  3. “And now I’m questioning it because I didn’t want to be just a novelist; I wanted to be a great one.”

    I was talking about this with Noakes the other day, because he’s afraid to create art, lest his creation be less than what he thought it should be.

    Look, I told him, I’d like to write as well as Mary Renault. And probably Mary Renault wanted to write as well as Shakespeare. And Shakespeare, no doubt, thought he wasn’t a patch on Homer. No doubt Homer considered himself to be very small compared to some ideal he had.

    If we all kept waiting for us to be as good as we thought we should be . . . What would get created?

    There’s no such thing as a Perfect Writer, because we don’t have the ability to know what the objective standards are for perfection. There may be some alien species out there who finds the efforts of Shakespeare to be laughable. Does that mean Shakespeare should never have written?

    To my mind, this is the practical definition of a good writer: They do the best they can. Some reader enjoys the results. That’s it. If you can do that, then you’re a success.

    Clearly you meet that criteria.

    As for your particular problem, I think you summed up the situation well: “We write best in the ways that are natural to us, and logic and rationality are what’s natural to me.” It can be frustrating if you enjoy reading a particular style, and you write in a different style. But remember: your reading tastes aren’t shared by everyone. The science fiction world is a vast universe, with lots of different literary approaches, and my god, are there plenty of readers there who like the logical-and-rational approach. If you were writing romance, you might be in trouble, but not where SF is concerned.

    That said, expanding one’s boundaries as a writer is always good. Instead of saying, “I can’t do this,” try doing it. Make use of your wonderful gift for rationality to rationally analyze how your favorite writers are including drama and emotional connections in their story. Remember: just because a writer has written an emotional scene doesn’t necessarily mean the writer was emotional when she created that scene. A lot of writers create emotions and drama in an utterly cold-blooded, rational manner. Try reading David Gerrold’s literary memoir The Trouble with Tribbles, or other nonfiction works by scriptwriters, because they often take the rational approach to creating drama.

    I’m a primarily intuitive writer myself – scenes simply unfold in front of my eyes – but there will be times in every story when I quite consciously say, “Okay, I need this particular element in the story – how do I insert it?” Such skills should be part of every writer’s toolbox.

    You will probably find that the rational approach works best for you. I found, after two years of teaching myself to write sex scenes (a skill that did not come naturally to me) that I prefer sex scenes to be nongraphic or fade-to-black. That’s fine. Now I know where my strength lies, but now I also have the ability to go beyond my natural strength if the occasion should arise when I need to create a graphic sex scene. It’s like knowing CPR even if you’ve decided not to go to medical school; it could come in handy.

    1. As always, you’re a kick in the butt when I need one. Thanks for the words about SF and the rational approach, and for the reference to Gerrold’s book. Yes, I need to work harder at the things I’m not good at, and I’m making a start on that. But I think I’ll skip the sex scenes. Like you, I prefer the nongraphic, and i simply wouldn’t write the kind of book where a full-out sex scene would be a necessary or expected part.

      1. “But I think I’ll skip the sex scenes.”

        Oh, I wasn’t suggesting you try them. That happened to be my particular challenge; I was mentioning that as an analogy to your challenge.

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