Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why I don't write a lot of fiction- right now

I think when I tell people that I've quit my job to be a writer, most of them assume I'm talking about fiction- that I'm going to sit around working on a novel. I think it would be safe to say that this is probably the 'coolest' form of writing- the one people imagine when they think of 'writers.' And probably most self-professed 'writers' would love that too- to be the next Michael Crichton, or Thomas Hardy, or Ernest Hemingway, or whoever floats your boat.

But unfortunately, fiction's not a promised paycheck. In fact, for most people fiction is pretty much guaranteed not to be a paycheck. For every thousand aspiring fiction writers out there, maybe a handful will get published. And of that handful, one will make it big- if they are lucky (Note: I totally just made those statistics up, so don't go citing me in a research paper or anything).

So, while there's certainly a part of me that yearns to be the deep novelist, toiling away at the next great American novel, breathing literary life into complex characters, and writing a story that will break hearts and inspire a generation and make people laugh and cry and dream . . . I don't write fiction. Not yet, anyways. It's not very glamorous to tell people, "I write web content, and pretty much anything that someone will pay me for (within ethical boundaries, of course);" but that's what I do and so that's what I tell people. It pays the bills (and of course, even though it's not an earth-shaking work of fiction, I still love doing it!)

Oh, and there's another reason I don't write fiction (right now). I'd go so far as to say this is the primary reason: it's too personal.

Fiction writing- or more accurately, fiction sharing . . . imagine if you had all the skin flailed off your frame, and then you had to invite people to poke at your exposed muscle. Fiction is "made up" but it contains more of you than any other kind of writing. It is personal and intimate. It is utter exposure of the parts of you that you tuck away.

I'm sure that people with plenty of fiction experience find ways of minimizing this feeling of bareness when someone else reads their work. I'd like to get there.

Today I bought new AAA batteries and popped two into my long-dead digital voice recorder (much more beloved by me than its long-dead status would imply). I was surprised to see there were six recordings still saved on it as the screen display came up. I pressed play. I thought it would be the recordings of the interviews I conducted while writing human interest stories for The Cave Spring Connection (I didn't remember having used the thing since).

It took me a moment before I recognized the voice, but I recognized the words- they were my words. My fiction story, written for a short story fiction class I took in Spring 2007 towards my Master's in professional writing. Things snapped into place: that was my professor, Sherry Reynolds, reading the first paragraph of the second of two stories I'd had to prepare for the class. Hearing the words I had painstaking crafted, and arranged, and agonized over, coming out of someone else's mouth- even when it was the second time I was hearing it- was shockingly, physically painful. I had to turn the recorder off before it got to the part where she asked for the class to start chiming in with comments. Seems a little ridiculous, since I'd already heard it all before- while sitting in a circle facing my 20-plus classmates AS they critiqued my fiction. And no one had said anything horribly critical- I knew this. It just felt too raw at that moment to hear it all again.

So, in case any of you were wondering what it is I am writing- and when I'm going to publish that first novel- I'm sorry to say it won't be anytime in the near future.

But . . . it is a goal for the not near, but hopefully not-too-far future.

{Originally published on November 10th, 2008 on my Wordpress blog}

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