It can be so easy to lose oneself in the endless books and articles telling us how to write better. The genre is so seductive: just read this one more article and you’ll have the key you’ve always sought; the last piece of the puzzle will fall into place and you will become an Author.
In these weekly essays, I’m hoping to both discover and offer keys and puzzle pieces that lead to better writing. Goodness knows I’m in favor of it. And like any good hoarder, I enjoy unearthing some new little treasure that will help me write more clearly, more evocatively, more, more, more.
But let’s stop briefly to remember why we got into writing in the first place.
Was it to make money? Not if we were thinking clearly. Was it for present-day fame? That’s largely another delusion. Was it to become, in some sense, immortal? It’s worth a shot, but think about how many books and short stories have been created since the dawn of written language. Now: how many of those authors can you name? So much for immortality.
I believe there are two fundamental reasons: 1) We have things we desperately want to say, and 2) we enjoy being creative.
Of the first reason, I will say only this at present: the lack of something to say is a primary cause of writer’s block. I may address that in more detail another time. For now, let’s focus on the second reason.
I believe most of us who write discovered words at an early age and enjoyed what other people did with them. It didn’t take many words to send us off on a great adventure, whether with a hat-wearing cat or a curious monkey. We wanted to be able to create our own great adventures, and we started writing stories.
Needless to say, these early attempts would have been pretty bad, but we were pretty bad at walking when we first tried it. We kept practicing, and we’re still practicing today. The difference is that as we’ve gotten older and have studied all the things that make up a great adventure, we’ve become focused on the rules and the techniques and we’ve forgotten the simple joy in being storytellers. We are rather like the centipede that can walk only so long as it does not think about how it does so.
That’s the point Heather Reid makes in her article about Finding the Creative Joy once more. She doesn’t argue against learning about literary structure and refining one’s techniques (and neither do I), but she reminds us that we used to do this strictly on the basis that it was fun. I suspect that recapturing that joie de plume could help make up for some minor deficiencies in a plot or in characterization.
Various authors have told us that a writer’s own emotions become tied up in the story he’s written. A reader could get through a technically proficient story and be underwhelmed because the author focused on the story’s framework and had no feeling about his own creation. Conversely, I occasionally reread Arthur C. Clarke’s The Songs of Distant Earth despite its plot being thinner than the paper it’s written on. Clarke focused on the emotional aspects of a brief meeting between long-separated peoples. Add to that the almost lyrical prose style he developed over the course of his career, and you’ve got a beautiful story.
As we work to perfect our plots, our characters, our themes and all the rest, let’s remember to enjoy what we’re doing. That should go some distance to helping our readers enjoy what we’re doing, as well.