Monday, January 23, 2012

How Did I Become a Writer?

The ability to writing fiction is a rare gift.  Very often it springs out nowhere like some like of immaculate conception.  

In my case, I attribute it to my overdeveloped imagination -- the result of hours of being alone as a young boy and having to entertain myself.  Even then I was using my toys to tell stories.  The transition from tales made up on the spot to pass the time and writing them down is a long arduous one because writing requires a certain amount of discipline and as a boy I had little.

Still, it may have been inevitable because I remember thinking that several of my tales were pretty good and that led to early attempts to capture the stories.  Of course, what a 10-year-old thinks is good and what an adult, some twenty years later thinks is good is a gulf that can be hard to span.  Suffice to say, that my early stories do not appeal to me anymore.

But imagination alone is not enough; if it were, my journey would have had a lot fewer bumps.  No, you need discipline, as I said.  And you need to persevere in the fact of rejection.  You need to practice every day, even went the words do not want to come.  And you need nurture your ability but reading and experiencing other forms of art: plays, movies, music, and so on.

This all requires a strength of will that many do not have.  And when you've been rejected ten or twenty or fifty or more times, you tend to think that maybe it is time to stop and go on to sometime else.  That's happened to me too.  But I found roads but to continue. 

Part of the problem here is that writing is art, the appreciation of which is subjective.  You might like a story I do not because it is a romance or has vampires crawling all over it.  But that doesn't mean the story is a bad one.  Conversely, I may write a story that few appreciate but that too does mean it is a bad one.  And this has been one of the hardest things to sort out.  Once I write anything, my first question is always, is it any good?

Unfortunately, I'm not always the best person to answer that question.  I can usually find things to change in the early stages of developing a story but whether or not the story works is a matter for the reader, not the writer.  If it does, great.  I've done my job; I'm happy and I can move onto the next one.  If it doesn't, then it's back to revising the tale.

One of the greatest lessons I ever lessoned in writing is that no one writes a perfect story the first time out.  No one.  There are always revisions and changes.  This was brought home to me in a writing class when the instructor showed us the revisions made to a tale by Hemingway or Faulkner, I forget which.

And knowing this eased my struggling to craft stories.  These days, after having written thousands -- or perhaps even millions or billions -- of words, stringing words together isn't the issue.  It's the story I am trying tell and all the elements of the story that I struggle with.  The characters, the plot, the descriptions. Am I showing enough?  Am I telling too much?  Is there a scene missing?  Is the dialogue right?

So how did I become a writer?  I can't even imagine.  Clearly, the odds were against me.

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