Monday, August 13, 2012

How the hell do you write fiction?

So, I have this story I've been working on for over a year now.

And when I say "working on," I mean the story has been chewing on me, pushing me, not letting me rest. Perhaps foolishly, I published two episodes (see here and here) on this blog in the hope that the public "commitment" might impel me toward completion.  And while I have succeeded in imposing a tormenting sense of urgency on myself, I haven't so far made much tangible progress on the story.  In fact, if anything, the story has gone backwards.  I'm less sure of where it should go, what it should be, than I was when I wrote those first sentences for Ryan Blacketter's PCC class last July.

Most of the problem stems from a lack of faith.  When you read something as magnificent and unique as David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, or Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, or Nelson Algren's A Walk on the Wild Side, the whole endeavor of creating fiction seems hopelessly beyond the abilities of a humble blogger.  How does one string together a series of words, phrases, and sentences to not only tell a story, but create a mood, evoke an emotion, confirm truths that readers will recognize?

I've read many books and articles.  I've conversed with writers.  I've read their interviews.  And from them all, I've concluded that no one can teach you how to do it.  All they can do is encourage you to try.

Well, fair enough.

I stumbled onto an article, recently, in the New Yorker.  It's written by Keith Ridgway, the author of some 4 fictional works (none of which have I read... yet).  The article is entitled "Everything is Fiction" and apart from revealing that Ridgway is a fantastic writer, it offers reassurance to those floundering souls who struggle with the magnitude of creating a believable, engrossing world:
I know how to wait until the last minute before putting anything on paper. I mean the last minute before the thought leaves me forever. I know how to leave out anything that looks to me—after a while—forced, deliberate, or fake. I know that I need to put myself in the story. I don’t mean literally. I mean emotionally. I need to care about what I’m writing—whether about the characters, or about what they’re getting up to, or about the way they feel or experience their world. I know that my job is to create a perspective. And to impose it on the reader. And I know that in order to do that with any success at all I must in some mysterious way risk everything. If I don’t break my own heart in the writing of a book then I know I’ve done it wrong. I’m not entirely sure what that means. But I know what it feels like.
So, I'll keep on this story. I wish I had confidence that I might, someday, have it in a form that I can call complete and that is close to what I want it to be. But, lacking confidence, I'll have to go on faith. And just keep writing.

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