Sunday, August 9, 2015

Work in Progress

Writing about writing: both a great pleasure and a guilty one. Because I should be writing, not writing about it, right?  This is an indulgence, and a chance to figure out what I'm doing.

I'm halfway through something that's turning out to be very, very hard to write.

In the past, my prose-writing process largely involved thinking of something neat and then spilling words onto paper. And then I stopped writing for a long time. When I started again, the point was writing at all, and slowly coming to see it as a craft rather than as something I did when a bolt of inspiration hit.  I've gotten there; now I write because I want to get better at writing, and I want to tell stories, and sometimes I even feel like I have something to say.

Much of the time the actual process of writing is hard-to-impossibly-hard for me. I love it, but it's incredibly hard work. I've learned a lot from my current writing group (Heydon, I can hear your voice in my head now), particularly from people who have formal education.  I've been lucky over the years; a combination of some natural ability, voracious reading, and intense interest has meant that even my undisciplined efforts have been pretty readable.  But now I'm actively getting better, learning how to use just the words I need (I always write long), and thinking of this stupid wonderful artform as a craft.

I've always written genre fiction, heavy on the fantastic, with some forays into the more social end of sci-fi and even, recently, something edging into horror. I don't plan to stop doing that; I like it. But right now I'm working pretty hard on a piece that's coming so, so hard. I've really only written one other piece of realistic fiction - "the boots story" - and it was several years ago, and quite painful to write.  That one was nothing like my personal experiences; the one I'm writing now is direct, and drawn from them.

It's about being gay right now in a small town. It's a story that's not about me (my main character isn't an author insertion) but that draws heavily on my own experiences. It's an attempt at literary fiction rather than genre fiction, and I find myself struggling.

My critique partner said, when he read the first part of it, that he could tell it was hard to write. He could tell I was fighting for the words, because he didn't have to tell me to compress things, to lose unnecessary sentences. He's right. And having it critiqued was hard too - it's raw, it's real. The inner critic is loud on this one. Am I doing this story justice? Will it ring true to straight people? Will anyone care? Why do I think I can speak for others in the way that this story is trying to do? Why not just write memoir instead of fiction, if I'm using my own experiences this much?

And I think of what I told someone else in writing group recently, someone attempting poetry: that to make a poem feel universally evocative, to bring up something resonant in any reader, you have to get very, very specific. It feels like a contradiction, but it makes sense. You don't say "I was scared," you describe the visceral sensations of fear - a prickle on the neck, suddenly cold hands, a heavy stomach, whatever piece you want. "Scared" is a construction, an abstraction made out of those sensations. You give your reader the sensations and they create their own construction, one that feels familiar because it's theirs.

So I think I'm trying to do something like that, but in prose. I think.

It's hard to write, so hard.

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