Over the span of the last several months, I have been toying around with a piece of fiction that has become the focus of a majority of my spare time. I won’t risk overestimating it’s potential by calling it a novel, so I will refer to it only as my “story” for now.
For a long time, I have felt trapped by the routine of writing only short non-fiction articles for this website and for other areas. Using the same old words and turns of phrase, to say nothing of the structure has left me burnt out and weary of the whole thing. For two years, my writing has improved only modestly and I shouldn’t be surprised. When sticking to one form of writing for the entirety of time, it would be unrealistic to expect improvements beyond a certain point. This thinking is a large part of what inspired me to build this website. I wanted the ability to experiment with the style and subjects of my writing in a way that wouldn’t adversely impact my jobs or academic career. When you are your own publisher, you are completely in control. Of course, the problem with that is that when you are your own publisher, you are completely in control.
Even with this blog as my new outlet, I find myself falling into the same old rut. If you haven’t tried writing before, it is an experience that can be difficult to describe. I suppose the easiest way to convey it would be to imagine painting the same picture over and over again with only being able to change the colors you use. You may enjoy it at first, finding joy and satisfaction in deciding the colors and creating new combinations, but after a while not being able to paint something new will take its toll and make you feel trapped. I knew that as I was getting more and more dissatisfied with writing the same types of things over and over again, I had to break out of the cycle and write in different ways in order to improve. I did make attempts in my nonfiction articles to improve, mainly by focusing on the precision of the expression style and diction, however, staying within the narrow confines of the subjects limited my progress. So, each time I wrote a new article, I would fall back into the same old practices that I had kept up, and the result would, unsurprisingly, be more of the same.
At around the time I was experiencing dissatisfaction with my writing, I began to read some of the work of Cormac McCarthy and Ernest Hemingway. Both of those men are my favorite fiction writers by far and I make a habit out of returning to their books repeatedly several times throughout a given year. They are both prime examples of a select group of writers who took their profession beyond its normal limits and expanded what was possible. Their books are routinely praised around the world and will continue to be praised so long as they are read. As I read their books recently, I started to think more and more about the value of writing style in telling a story. Prior to this, I had considered writing stories before but had decided against it. My thinking was that I would never be as good as these great masters and so any attempt to do so at all would be a waste of time and effort. My thinking on this has matured lately. Of course, I doubt I will ever be like Hemingway or McCarthy, but how did they get so great in the first place? No matter what anyone tells you, writing skill is not something you are born with or something that you can inherit. Talent in writing is won through work and practice. That’s all there is to it and that’s how they became so great at what they do. With that in mind, I figured that I would be making a mistake if I did not at least start working on my ability to tell a story through writing.
A couple of months ago I started writing a story and even in such a short period of time it has already changed so much from what I thought it was going to be. The plot has done a complete turnaround and will probably continue to morph as I go. Nothing is settled as of yet, but so far my main character is a man who has escaped a boring life of
to find adventure in the west during the mid 19th century. He heads west to fall in with a band of people he does not know and lives a life free from expectation or demands. Following one of the clever habits of Cormac McCarthy, I have not named my main character and I am referring to him only as “the man.” As new characters get introduced it might be hard to keep that up but so far I am managing to maintain it.
The primary frustration I have experienced so far is my difficulty in transferring my ideas to the written word. When you write or draw or what have you, you have the perfect image in your mind and your challenge then becomes being able to communicate it flawlessly to your medium. The communication to your audience is where things start to fall apart and it’s never as perfect as you might hope. There is always some roadblock inhibiting your perfect story. There are even days when it seems like you can’t form words at all and then no matter what you do all your sentences come out clunky and disjointed. There are days also where you can experience the exact opposite; all your words flow together beautifully and you can write pages in one sitting. These latter kind of days are regrettably fewer than the former.
I find that when I have trouble writing, I step away from it only to not come back until days or weeks later. My drive to write is directly impacted by my pleasure in writing and I hope that this is something I can get over and soon. I would suspect someone of lying if they told me that they enjoyed writing all the time. Even Ernest Hemingway saw writing as somewhat of a burden, and he was one of the best in the world at it. The good times are enjoyable but the bad times are painful. In fact, someone once asked Hemingway what the trick was to writing and he responded, “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Simple enough eh? I think what he was getting at was that the trick to writing is sticking out the unpleasant bits and continuing through them all the same. It’s something I struggle with but I am making a conscious effort to strengthen my will in that area.
It’s a little difficult to find the drive to stay committed to something that is your own creation. In a professional setting, you are accountable to your peers and to your superiors and others rely heavily on you performing your tasks well. In this situation, absolutely no one relies on my ability to write a good story and I have to be my own boss, so to speak. I am finding this difficult so far. Hemingway wrote every morning but I am having trouble setting up a routine like this because of something I’ve already mentioned. Sometimes, you simply aren’t able to write well. Obviously, I’m going to have to push through these obstacles if I am to finish the thing before I turn 50, and that’s not really an exaggeration.
As I’ve mentioned already, I still have yet to see an ending to the story and I haven’t even settled on a firm plot line. On top of this, I have other story ideas in the works and I hope to eventually publish a short story before rolling out a full length novel. At the moment, I’m focused more than anything on the aesthetics of the scenes and the building of the characters rather than the development of plot, which I plan to work on later on. I’m not aiming to write a masterpiece here. All I want to do is try my hand at creative writing in a disciplined and structured way in order to improve. Whether the result will be worthwhile or not I do not know. I do know this; the result will be nothing if I don’t do it.