I know I said I’d never have recycled content, but the talented (and rightfully defiant of the the dodgy and mercurial rules passed down from the Writing Powers That Be) Kate has requested I transfer this post from my blog on MySpace to here. Never one to turn down an appeal — especially one that makes me feel all kinds of special — here it is.
Are You a Real Writer?
No, this isn’t some Internet quiz that will tell you if you’re on the right track or not. Sorry to disappoint, but odds are, if you need a quiz to tell you, then you’re probably not.
I read a few books on the craft of writing when I first started this project. In many ways, they proved invaluable. Nonetheless, I’ve started to shy away from them. Each time I get into one, I find myself in a spiral of intimidation. “What’s your theme? What are recurring images in your work?” The list of questions goes on and on, until I feel like a kindergartener with a Crayola-scrawled piece of paper in an interrogation room. The light on me keeps getting brighter, the interviewer more antagonistic, and I shrink down in my chair, holding up my little paper like a shield and say, “But — see what I did? Pretty.”
The investigator lets me go and I scurry away, self-doubt dogging my heels as if it were my shadow: What if I don’t have a theme? Am I filling 200,000 words worth of pages with absolutely nothing? Do I even know anything close to what the hell I’m doing? It may be what all new writers go through, I don’t know. All I’m certain of is the plague of uncertainty that is left in the wake.
I just picked up another one of those books, one recommended to me a while back but had been banished to the dustiest corner of my shelf for the reasons stated above. While revising, I decided I indeed needed some guidance and set about reading through this one, hoping for some sort of validation or direction. Instead, I got the doubt-monster for company.
On Saturday night I went out with a group of friends. We were in one of the Ocean City local restaurant/bars — one of the few that doesn’t shut down when tourist season ends. The conversations went all over the place, but, finally, the subject turned to my writing. Now, I don’t usually talk about the novel. First off, I just don’t see any natural way to insert the topics I cover in any standard conversation (“Hey, did you guys know that in dark magic poison can be made extra potent by straining it through the hair of a redhead?”). Secondly, I get nervous they’ll all catch on to the fact I have no idea what I’m talking about. So, I end up replying to their queries in a vague manner, like, “Oh, it’s going okay.”
For whatever reason (maybe the thick, brain-clouding haze of cigarette smoke, or the trauma from a three hundred pound man toppling off his barstool and nearly taking me out with him), I felt compelled to corner one of my poor friends, subsequently launching into a hour-long tirade about the story and it’s plot twists and turns. During that time I realized two things: 1) My friend is an extremely patient person, and 2) I DO have a handle on this novel.
I started talking about Resonance and her plethora of issues and I realized — hey, I actually go somewhere with this thing. I went on and on about acceptance, the development of humanity in the absence of all that can be defined as human, and the struggle for a sense of self. I talked for so long my lips started to stick to my gums and my voice became hoarse. To my friend’s credit, her eyes never once glazed nor did she check her watch. She actually seemed — interested.
I guess this self-acceptance (that which I write so prolifically about in fictional terms) comes for me in stages. Despite my lack of formal training and despite my seeming inability to play “name that theme” in the early stages of my work, I am a real writer. I’ve got the tools, and I’ve just shown myself I can use them. It’s a nice feeling — like a paternal pat on the head from The Beyond, a reassurance I’m in the right place at the right time, and definitely doing an okay job.