Monday, December 8, 2008

after Why comes What

After thinking about why I write stories, thanks to Book's post, I started thinking about what I want from them. What are my goals or ambitions? I want success, of course. I want a career. What could be better than gaining financial security from doing the one thing you most love to do? And thus be able to devote your full time and devotion to it? And as part of that I want an audience, and I would like to hope the audience would appreciate me. If you spend that much time doing something I think it's only human nature to want a little acclaim for it, a little recognition of what you've done. An element of me wants respect. I admit it. Part of me would be tickled if I received widespread admiration for my abilities. It's the vanity within all of us (or most of us), and Ego is a tricky bugger.

But these are all secondary ambitions, and they are pale shadows next to my true ambition: to write something great. Not to write something good, or very good, or even really really good... but something great. I'm a perfectionist, and I dream of making something as perfect as my talents allow. I want to write something worthwhile. I want to write something that resonates long after it has left me to venture alone into the world. I want something that can stand by itself and exist. I want something great.

And what is "great"? I suppose you could measure it in awards, in money and books sold, but these are always going to be somewhat subjective and artificial. They provide a sort of validation, but it's a validation that might be meaningless without that inner sense of having accomplished something. It's a feeling I'm looking for. A feeling I get when I know I've done something just right. I think I'm always looking for it, pushing myself, my writing, towards this. I want to do something as perfectly as I humanly can. I want to be able to read it and know. It may not sell, it may not be a success by any common standard, but if I can hit that mark and feel that story resonate in some way that's bigger than me, with a reach greater than my own... I'll know I've done something worthwhile.

I may not reach that point. But part of why I love writing is because it's not easy. I think I love the challenge of it, the struggle, the way a story shifts and turns beneath the words you choose. There is no right answer in writing a story, only, perhaps, an answer that is more right or less right.

When I was young I was a jaunty little math wizard. It came very easy to me, and I liked finding a solution, learning how to solve a problem. And after that it bored me. Math was about repetition, full of rote memory work to absorb formulas and theories. The joy of discovery faded quickly beyond a vast wall of repetitive questions, the same thing written over and over with only the numbers different, a simple game of substitution. It didn't fool me. It was the same question, and answering it once was enough.

I discovered that writing a story, though, was a constant act of discovery. Each one was new and different, and all but the most basic formulas shifted and changed constantly beneath my fingertips as I typed. There were no solutions, only journeys, only a long process where each step was as important as the final destination.

That's what I want most of all: a story that takes me one step further on the journey.


Wanu said...

The What... What I want from the stories... I wanna be rich beyond my wildest dreams!

Well, okay, that would be nice, but at the most basic level I want to know the stories are good. I did the Three Little Words challenge a couple of days ago and Ezimachia posted beneath my story: 'How delightful! You truly have an enjoyable style. It drew me in quite completely with an easy going presence and voice. Thanks so much for sharing it!'

I love that, I love that response, the energy, the connection with a reader, the pure celebration of something that I've written. That's what I want, at the most basic level, that response! And it's like sex, once is never enough! I don't know if my pleasure at others people's pleasure necessarily says anything good about me as a person. Getting a comment like that does make me feel validated, and there is an element of status attached, there's all kinds of different ways of looking at it, but the main recognition, the best analysis I can give is that I love it. Job satisfaction, maybe, would be one way of putting it. Writing is potentially very rewarding in this way of having people thoroughly enjoy what you've done, and that's my first level of 'what I want' from writing.

Bookworm1605 said...

The what? Oh my, I hadn't thought of that. You mean, something comes after 'why'? I guess that makes sense. There pretty much has to be a 'what' if you settle the question of 'why' I suppose. Since you put it that way it makes total sense. Let me see...what?


I think defining what I want from my writing is difficult for me. It isn't fame and fortune, although you'd know I was lying if I didn't admit that'd tickle me. I'd love to be able to call myself a WRITER. In my little podunk town it'd be super cool and probably disconcerting for my fellow villagers if I could respond to that unavoidable question: "and what do YOU do?" with

"Oh, I'm a writer."

Yeah, that'd be fun.

But beyond that, what do I want from my writing?

Like Ink, I think a part of me would like to CREATE something lasting. It's what artists do, right? We strive in our pitiful ways to pull something from the void, wrestle and mold it and fashion it into something that has meaning. Yes, I think that is an important part of it.

Also, like Wanu, I seek to connect with readers. I truly enjoy getting feedback that someone liked my story. There are very few books/stories that I've read in my life that truly held me rapt-touched me and made a lasting impression on me. I want to write those kinds of stories.

But, I think when I boil away all the ancillary things, one aspect of writing remains for me. Writing is a kind of emotional catharsis. It allows me to exercise my demons.

My very first story was a perfect example of this phenomenon. I was going through a time of concern for my young daughters. They were just beginning school and like all parents, I worried for their safety and such. I'm not good showing emotions so I tend to internalize. When I sat down to write my first story, this 10K word torrent of weirdness gushed from me, practically in one sitting and it went something like this:

A young girl with total memory loss finds herself abducted by cruel aliens that force their abductees to fight to the death gladitorial style in a surreal arena. She is young, scared and helpless and pitted against a nightmare monster out of my worst dreams. At the pivotal point, as the alien monster is about to finish her off, she transforms into a huge, vicious werewolf and essentially kicks alien butt.

After writing this jewel of oddness, I realized it was a subconscious manifestation of my fear for my daughters. Regardless, it felt good to write it.

Most of my stories since have had the same flavor. The ones I struggle finishing, once I go back and analyze, I realize they are hollow in some way, lacking that essential spark of emotion that I can connect with. That's why I've struggled so with Vortex. It's about loss of faith and I don't have faith issues.

So, I don't know if any of that makes sense, but I think that's the 'what' of my writing. I need psychological cleansing and writing is a lot cheaper than a shrink. I read a quote recently that said something like, "The only difference between me and a madman is that I'm not mad." Yeah, right.

Speaking of quotes, I'll leave you with a couple that have little or nothing to do with this discussion. But I think they're cool. Both are Stephen King.

"I try to create sympathy for my characters, then I turn the monsters loose."

"I have the heart of a boy. It's in a jar on my desk."

Wanu said...

lol! Book, exercise your demons. I had a friend, way back, who made a website called 'Devil Spoons'. I didn't understand the title and asked him why, and he said 'We need the spoons, to feed our demons!'

Perhaps by feeding and exercising them, you could really bring your demons along? They could be like huge-o-demons, like Pinhead and the Cennobytes!

Well, I didn't rejoin the discussion just to be silly, I quite liked the fact we all had different answers:

to perfect, to be adored, and to expunge.

I think it's also pretty cool that the answers are all very personal. Everyone mentioned cash, and huge financial success should be the reward of a damned good writer, so okay, that's within our awareness, but not the real 'what' of what we want. I think that's pretty cool.

Ink said...

I tend to think that the real writers always have some sort of deeper connection to their writing, something beyond the success and ego stuff. I think most real writers have some strong primary reason (or a few of them) for doing it. It's something that's less a want, and more a need. There's something that draws them in, or compels them to write. There's something inside and it wants to get out, and writing stories is the outlet.

There's something inside and it wants to get out... Why do I think I just gave book an image from the Aliens movies?