"If You Can't Do Something Smart, Do Something Right"

"It ain't all buttons and charts, little albatross."
malcolm reynolds

As a general rule, I don't read how-to books on writing. I find them incomprehensible and frequently a hindrance if I try to think about their tenants while I'm doing my own writing.  I know they work well for some people, and occasionally I do click on a link on Facebook and scan through someone's blog post on writing (rather like this one here), but otherwise my only teachers on how to write have been actual works of literature.  I have said it before, I started writing long before I realized what I was doing, and I was far too young to analyze my work to death, and so the thing became intuitive.  I learned what a good story was (probably through reading them: my early works are, understandably, abysmal), I learned to appreciate a good storyteller, and I learned most of it through simply doing it without over-thinking the business.  I read once that beginnings are the hardest, because that is where the fear is.  That is true, and I am glad I began when I was too young to realize there was anything to be afraid of.  I loved what I was doing, I loved my characters and my melodramatic plots, I loved hitting the sweet spot with the words that made them taste like rage in your mouth.  I had no idea what I was doing, but I was doing it right.

"You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take a boat in the air you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as a turn o' the worlds.  Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down - tells you when she's hurtin' 'fore she keels.
Makes her a home."

Despite all the hitches and stress and editing and wrangling of plots and characters (without which what I do would not be worth a hill o' beans), I love it: and the love makes the writing work.  While writing Ethandune, my husband remarked that he could tell what a fun time I was having working with it: it bled through the story.  I have ups and downs and mood swings about my writing the same as everyone else.  Some days I stare at the cursor on the page and curse right back at it, feeling that I will never be able to put two words of sense together again.  But maybe I'm just feeling down: maybe my tea hasn't kicked in, or the sun hasn't shone for three days straight.  In the end my husband reminds me that I am a good writer and I know that I love what I do.  And in the end I make something good after all.

I was really shocked by the response to "The Tarot Smile."  I was expecting feedback: instead I got a barrage of "How do you do that!" which naturally put me on the spot and drove me back inside my introverted shell.  Again, I don't know!  I'm not one to analyze my writing - or anyone else's much, for that matter.  I just do it.  How do my husband and I make our relationship work?  We love each other.  How do I make my imagination join with words on the page?  I love it.  There is a certain something which no writing book can give you and which is crucial to the life of a story.  Call it love, call it genius, you can't get it out of a writing book - you can't even get it out of years of practice.

There are writing principles just as there are rules of etiquette in life.  You learn them and you live by them, with respect and honour to the craft just as you respect and honour your fellow men.  But the human imagination is a huge world, with plenty of space for the exploring, and maybe that imagination isn't in line with the marketable writing of your time, maybe it isn't "the thing," - but you're honest, and you love it, and the love makes you good at what you do.  I know that the surest way to take the fighting life out of my writing is to try to cage it.  Writing is about making something alive, not putting a bicycle back together.  No matter how much you shock that corpse, if you haven't got that genius with which to fill it, it will never live.  In the end, our books stand or fall on the basis of the life inside us - and stand they will if the life inside us is good, for an abundance of good things will come out of it.

In the end, I write a little blindly, often unaware of what I do.  Writers are a strange breed of creature, perpetually examined by the outside world as curios of the human race, and I will probably continue to be asked how I write, and I will continue to cast about for an answer: for in all my wordsmithing, that is one piece of dialogue which I will eternally neglect to construct.  In my head the characters are all living people, looking out at the world with countless different views, making countless different stories, and I write those stories, and I love them, and loving them makes them live.  I in them and them in me and somehow in the midst of it all a little creative glory gets thrown in through grace and I am satisfied. 

1 ripostes

  1. Well, if it makes you feel any better, my "How do you do that?" was more in the nature of a rhetorical questions—an expression of the wish that I could produce such beautiful descriptive writing. :)

    But you know, you've given me something to think about here. I think too often I work myself up into frustration over a sentence or a paragraph that just doesn't look right, and lose sight of the bigger picture. I've got to remind myself that I love what I do, and that I love the story I'm working on—because I do, after all—and let that feeling have its effect on my work. Maybe it'll make the words flow more freely, in addition to being more enjoyable.