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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Writing: It's Really About Winging It

I've been following Mark Charan Newton's blog for some time now.  He's the author of Nights of Villjamur, City of Ruin, and Book of Transformations, an environmental activist, reviewer, and too many other things to put in a post without wandering into random topics.  He recently posted an interesting response to a Guardian article about Tobias Wolff, from which I draw the following quote:
While I’m in no way intending to put myself anywhere near Wolff on an achievement level, I can really agree with his statement about faking it. Every single time I sit down to write, I feel like I’m winging it. From all the research I do to watching all the reviews come in, it still doesn’t feel real. Those poor Amazon reviews seem like a plot to expose me by those who know the Truth.
I should be just as humble about what I will write below, as I am even less accomplished than Newton in my writing career (a couple of short fiction sales, no novels with agents, and a long list of rejects for stories I am told are quite good -- thanks Adam).

The interesting thing about writing is how muddled the field has become.  There are so many classes and workshops and books about the process of writing that the reality of the writing process seems to have gotten lost.  Everything about writing is about "faking it" or "winging it."  Fiction is always already a symptom of overactive imaginations, its very formation founded in
the campfire dramas and ancient mythologists who made up lofty explanations for the strange world in which they lived and the great heroes and monsters that inhabited it.  We keep this tradition going by telling stories about people that don't exist (or about people who do exist, but have become caricatures of their former selves).  Some of us make up our own mythologies and worlds (such as Newton and myself), while others wander into the realm of the everyday or the extraordinary of the real world (the good, the bad, and the ugly).

And at the end of the day, there aren't any rules or standards for the writing process beyond the arbitrary ones we set in regards to the language itself -- and many authors break that too by providing stories written in various kinds of non-standard English (Nalo Hopkinson and Tobias S. Buckell, for example, use different version of island-based dialects in their work).  So when writers get down to talking about their successes, of which I have very few, I think they are exposed to the inadequacy of the method:  that is that we can't exactly say "why" we have succeeded, except to say that someone liked whatever it was we wrote.

There are no hard and fast rules of writing.  There is no magic advice that holds true for everyone.  Some say to be a writer, you have to write all the time, but plenty of writers do the exact opposite and do just fine.  Do this, or that, or do both at the same time, at different times of the day, half on a Tuesday, three times on a Friday, and never on a Sunday unless it's the 1st of the month...when it comes down to it, we're just making it all up -- the rules, the stories, the methods, our styles, etc.

I suspect that the more accomplished a writer becomes, the more able they are to put a brick wall in front of that part of themselves that reminds them of their obliviousness.  You'd have to, right?  Because to spend your entire life thinking that this might be the day someone figures out you've tricked them into thinking you're a good writer...well, that would suck.

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  1. Yep. We're all just winging it, I think. This is a good reminder. But the funny thing is that no matter what the process, if someone loves what we wrote then we ARE great writers.

  2. Exactly! But how we got there is often very difficult to suss out, you know?

  3. Solidarity, brother! Keep at it and don't look down...

  4. Don't you worry, Mark. I'll be the next J. K. Rowling. Only a boy. And writing about different stuff. But still the same!