Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Self-Protective Layers

I’m convinced one cure for bad fiction is to write more fiction (hopefully, with the goal to become a better fiction writer). It is from reading widely that I can often see what does not work in fiction. To make a generalization: I know it when I see it. To recognize it is when to take evasive action. The prescription I’ve found is often to invent for the sake of itself. This is to break through ones own self-protective layers (or the received protective layers?). We say things one way because we don’t imagine it any other way. Or we are looking too hard at the way it really was.

There is nothing wrong with writing from life. On the other hand, I don’t believe that you should only “write what you know.” Trying for verisimilitude doesn’t get you very far when you’ve stopped seeing. There is a Buddhist precept that says: truth comes through seeing. This might handily explain the show don’t tell mantra, and may be the problem of writing from life: you’ve got to get the details right... But I say channel something new, not the thing you’ve been thinking about for thirty years, or two years. Or two months.

After all, no one tells your story. You are the only one who can. Why not challenge yourself to think outside of the (imagined) book, outside of yourself. Remove yourself from the equation; if need be, attempt to imitate someone if you want. Just imitate someone very good.

Here is my prescription for stripping away some of those self-protective layers, if only because this is how one can begin to explore and write from somewhere that is vast, compelling and unique:

1. Find the subjects that interest you most. Explore them, constantly. Seek them out.

2. Cultivate the time to write every week. And more, whenever you can.

3. Write the best of what you write.

4. Let the work be what it wants to be.

5. Read a lot. You will not become a writer if you can’t name at least five books that you love and have read more than once.

6. Be open to new writers. Take the time to read and evaluate for yourself if something is worth all the praise that might be lauded upon it. If you read enough, you’ll become very discerning about what is good and what isn’t. To you. And you’ll come to know what you like.

7. Be willing to risk--put your work out there. Just don’t let negative criticism defeat you or detract you from your goals.

8. When you have gained the confidence in your work, always try to write with the idea that you are writing for publication. This instills the idea that you will commit your words to being clear, concise, and powerful. And to resonate with your ideal reader, whoever they may be.

1 comment:

  1. The self-protective layers idea is probably correct. One of the fears that arise when I write is the fact that who I truly am will appear on the page since my best writing comes directly from my subconscious. Therefore, Freud or no Freud, my true personality, not the one I filter through socially approved ideals, is apparent for all to see. This is how I can read a piece months after I have written it and not recognize the author. It is more me than the me I allow myself to view day to day.