The Reason for Writing

I have a confession. I lost my way on the writing path…

I seem to have forgotten my own definition of “success,” which is not about money and not even necessarily about visibility. My definition of success as a writer is creating work that I am proud to share, work that I myself enjoy reading, and work that connects with someone out there. The point is to capture something about the world, to distill pieces of reality into my weird speculative fiction. And instead of doing that, I’ve been obsessing over writing work that will “sell,” or that will be popular.

In regard to my writing here on wordpress, I blame Freshly Pressed. Now, before there is any confusion, I must say that I think it’s great that it exists. It makes perfect sense for wordpress to select posts that they feel would be entertaining or illuminating for many people and help them reach a wider audience. I completely get that and I applaud everyone who makes it into that category (although I guess some people don’t think of it as such a big deal). What bothers me is that the selection seems arbitrary to a certain degree. They have made posts that explain what makes a post more likely to become Freshly Pressed, but those posts don’t fully explain it. I’ll still go through them sometimes and think, “these posts aren’t better than my posts. I could be Freshly Pressed.” So then, I try to think of what I could do to make a post that would be featured by wordpress, or maybe “go viral.” This is a terrible approach.

The way I see it, there are three basic ways to approach writing. One is just as a hobby, and that to me means that it’s something that you enjoy doing but isn’t incredibly important to you. The other two ways are: writing to make money, and writing because it’s in your soul and you can’t possibly be happy if you don’t. Writing as ART. Writing as art does not often overlap with writing popular works. There are plenty of popular books that can be considered real literature, but it seems that the majority of the moneymakers in the publishing world are NOT impressive literary works.

Being popular as a writer should not matter to me. You have only to look at the Twilight books to see that the masses are not the best judges of quality. That is, being popular as a writer should not be how I define success; but it does matter. It matters, and I will tell you why.

It matters because although I am writing for myself, I do not exist in a vacuum. I have to write for myself, because I am the first person who will ever read it, and I certainly believe the saying that if I don’t want to read it, no one else will either. However, the intention, after that first viewing, is to reach as many people as I can–to connect, even with people I never meet. To express for my readers things that they cannot find the words to say themselves. To allow my readers to enter the worlds I create, whether in a meaningful way or as pure recreation. And none of that can ever happen if I can’t get people to read the work.

I think that becoming well-known, maybe even being able to support myself financially, as a writer will always be a dream of mine, whether or not I ever come close. For now, I have to put that aside and find my way back. I have to remember that I am writing for me. Plenty of readers seem to like what’s come out of that approach in the past… I’m sure some will again.

Projects

1. Sleeping Beauty-based novel about stories and interpersonal relationships. There’s only a side love story in this one! I’m sure many people will be disappointed, but that’s life. Still not getting anywhere in the writing, but against all rationale and logic I still believe I can get some momentum going on that…

 

2. A series of short (ish) stories in which figures from various cultural myths encounter the Hindu god Krishna at important points in their lives. This was my senior writing project in 2008-2009, which I revised, then saved on a thumb drive and apparently nowhere else, then lost the thumb drive. I want to publish this as a book, so I need to re-revise, then decide what the next step should be. Agents? Send to publishers without an agent? Self-publish. Ugh. So much work. I’m literally ONLY good at the creative stuff. (At least, I used to be.)

 

3. At least three short stories I wrote and never finished. Sometimes I completely lose interest after the first draft.

 

4. Return to retellings of fairy tales written throughout high school (and even a bit in college). I’m thinking I might post it on fanfiction (yes, I am a dork), because I already have readers there. Then again, I do eventually want people to take me serious as a writer, so… maybe not.

Maybe I’ll make a new pen name! Then I can dissociate the stories from the old, ridiculous harry potter fanfics (which still get reviews, somehow…)

 

5. Don’t Die. I feel good about this one, since most people in the world will also be working on this project with me.

That Rare Creature, Original Fiction

I never participate in NaNoWriMo. I blame the month of November, because it never works out that I have enough spare time to write an entire novel. I’m also becoming more and more certain that I have ADD, which is my new excuse for rarely posting at all. I’ve got an answer for everything.

The knowledge that every person who fancies herself a writer and can somehow find the motivation to do so is currently finishing off that novel-in-a-month makes me think about the vast and expanding number of stories that exist in today’s world.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one: “There are no new stories.”

I’ve heard it a whole lot of times over the years. And I suppose, in some ways, it is true. Kind of. That is, at their cores a lot of stories are about the same basic things – there is a set number of stories that exist, I’ve heard, and absolutely every piece of “literature” (using it as a loose term, hence the quotes) falls into one of those categories. I believe I remember the number seven being thrown around. Not that I care enough about this particular claim to pay attention to what these categories actually are.

I don’t adhere to this. More specifically, I do not believe that just because two authors write books centered around prophesied dragon-slayers, they are writing the same book. Allow me to elaborate.

Let’s assume for a moment that it’s true, and there are no new stories. So, what the fuck am I doing? What’s the point in being a writer? Why don’t we all just give up, since all the stories have been told? Hmm. You know how some people say there are no stupid questions? They’re wrong. That last one is a really stupid question.

It might be so that one can strip down most stories to their basic plots or themes and lump them into broad groups. If you’re someone who does that, congratulations, you have managed to destroy the story as you were reading it. Because, although that core is typically important for most works, it does not make up the entire work. The plot, or the theme, is not the entire story. There are a lot of books that are suspiciously similar and do not offer anything new or make you think at all. I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about LITERATURE. By some definitions literature is any writing, but I’m a scholar, so that’s not the definition I work with. Literature has something to say, which goes beyond a single aspect like plot or theme or symbolism or any of those other terms you learned in grade school. The language is important. The way something is said. The expression of a common experience that is told in a way you have never read before. An image that awakens something in your mind. Reflections of the current times, important events in history and what they might mean.

I realize that this last paragraph is not the picture of clarity, and I apologize. I think about this a lot, and I so vehemently believe that new stories happen all the time that my arguments never come out in a calmly structured way. And, honestly, I don’t care, because I’m pretty sure you can still get the point.

The point is, what does originality mean? If it means inventing a plot that is completely unfamiliar at every turn, then we’re all screwed, because that’s impossible. Personally, I like to challenge this new story business by rewriting old stories in entirely new ways. Sadly I cannot yet prove this, since none of them have been published. If you have a way to help with this, you’d be one step closer to seeing my own brand of originality in action.

(Kidding, of course. I’m going to get myself published. It just might take a while.)

My thinking is that originality is not about creating a world no one has heard of, or adding complex twists to the basic plots all stories fall into. It is about the way the story is told. And honestly, one does not have to be Murakami (whom I still haven’t read yet) to be original.

Although I hear it helps.

 

 

Reasons to Get an Education

I still don’t have any new fiction available to post! I’m not sorry for it, because I am writing, and I technically have been more productive in the past week than I was for about a month before that…

So, back to the point. I have no fiction to post. It occurred to me, however, that I already have some pieces published online, and it might be worthwhile to refer you to them. They’re critical essays, one about the nature of historical fiction, the other about Shakespeare! If you don’t really want to read them, you could still just click the links and give them a quick look. It would be a favor to me. View the essays at these links:

http://www.studentpulse.com/articles/94/how-now-hecate-the-supernatural-in-shakespeares-tragedies

http://www.studentpulse.com/articles/83/the-passage-from-now-to-then-examining-historical-literature-through-marguerite-yourcenars-memoirs-of-hadrian

 

A self-evaluating note: The section on Romeo and Juliet in the Shakespeare essay is not as interesting or insightful as the rest, so you can skip over it and not miss all that much. However, if you read it, just let the juxtaposition make the observations on Macbeth and Hamlet seem even more interesting and insightful.