Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Neverending Difficulty of Story

Believe it or not, this isn't a complaint. I'm fascinated by difficult things. Easy is so easily boring. I'm the sort of person who likes a challenge. Things that I can win easily, or master easily... usually offer little interest to me. If I know I can do it, why bother doing it? The endeavor will lack drama or interest.

Videogames might be an example for me... I've never really gotten into videogames, though I know many people are obsessed with them. But I don't think the typical video game pattern is very amenable to me. You pour a ton of early time into playing, quickly learn how to operate the game and then master the functions and win the game. It's sort of a burst. It can certainly take skill and effort... but that sort of short term fixation doesn't usually draw me. The conclusion is in sight - in a short and somewhat undetermined time in the near future, I will win. And if I were ever to get caught up in a videogame I'm guessing it would be one that veers from this pattern, an online game, say, that's always changing because it's open to the individual actions of many gamers. It's a more continuous and shifting investment.

And here's where I come to writing. It's hard. It's bloody hard, at least to do it well. To be great. And I like that. It draws me on that I won't have complete mastery by next Tuesday. The farther you go, with writing, the more you realize how much you have yet to explore. It's expansive and shifting, and your goals will change even as you change. Aesthetic shifts can match shifts in experience and interest.

Writing, in a sense, is a limitless pursuit. There's nothing finite. No clear ending. You can't reach a point and say "Hey, I won! What should I do now?" It's that old idea that perfection is an unreachable goal but the only one worth striving for.

So what does the difficulty of writing mean to you?


L. T. Host said...

That would be a post of my own in and of itself :)

The short answer? I love anything I can improve on. I love bettering myself at things. Learning how to do more difficult things; learning to do the things that I have admired other people for being able to do.

That's when I feel accomplished, but there's always something a step above me to learn, too.

GG said...

I agree 100%. I left a career in nursing to write. There's something addictive about writing. Being a bit of an outcast in terms of profession and being continuously dangled by a hair over the sea of possible/probable rejection is kind of an odd thrill for me. Certainly more thrilling than nursing.

Joshua McCune said...

There is definitely a duel sense of satisfaction and frustration at the long drawn out process of improvement.

Bryan Russell said...

I think part of what I like is that if I get really good at this writing thing then I will have earned it. No shortcuts. It took a hell of a lot to get there. It's like running a marathon. There's not really an easy way of running a marathon. How many hours on the road of training? And the race itself is going to be painful... you have to earn that finish line.

Bryan Russell said...

Though I should say my mother's a nurse and the other day she had to chase a slightly crazy fellow in the midst of an epileptic fit up and down throughout the hospital. That must have been a little exciting...


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I don't play video games because I die. D-e-d. Every time.

The never-ending ascent of the mountain of writing has been dogging me lately. I expected the steep learning curve, loved the challenge, strapped my boots on and went for it. I'm used to a dedicated effort accomplishing much, with the curve starting to flatten out after a while. Not that you ever truly master anything - there is always more to be learned.

See: parenting

But that aside, I am surprised at how each advance over a rise in writing skill uncovers another higher mountain to climb. I'm just now resolving myself to the nature of this journey. And you are right: bloody hard work.

dolorah said...

The difficulty of writing to me means that I get to keep doing it. When there are no challenges in my story, or nothing new to learn, then I'll be bored with it.

Luckily for me, I'm still growing and learning as a writer, and I'm still enjoying ferreting out those new ideas for more stories.

If fills my free time much better than video games. Thought I have to say, solitaire and Jewel Quest sometimes divert my interest from writing for hours at a time.


GG said...

LOL-I have done my share of chasing patients! Once, as a student, I chased an alzheimer's patient up and down the elevator system. Definitely exciting-a different kind of excitement though ;)

Bryan Russell said...

Solitaire... bane of the world.

And Susan, I do think writing is like that. You think you got something down... and nope. Not done yet.

I had this idea that people come in with story down, with interesting ideas to share. But then they realize they have too work on the basics (tense, POV, etc.). Then we get good at that but realize our prose is shaky, so we have to work on that. Then we realize we can write a good line but discover we know nothing about editing. And then we get through that and say Aha! But... we learn that story thing we thought we had mastered right at the start... well, it's harder and more complex than we thought and making that interesting idea work just right is a helluva lot harder than we had first imagined.

But through all that... I think we can feel progress. A great line, and then a great paragraph, and then a great scene... and then a great story. How did I do that? Then you have to try and repeat it, find that magic again, find what worked.

Mira said...

Well, this is very inspiring.

Hopefully, I'll be able to shake that one off.

Personally, I like things that are really easy. I love computer games, and I especially love the ones that I can win with a minimum of effort, and they give you lots of awards every time you win something. The awards are not real, they are just things like a blue ribbon that says: "WOW. You are AMAZING", but I really like the false sense of accomplishment and amazingness I get from them.

I'm trying really hard to figure out how to get published without actually having to write anything. So far, no luck, but I feel perfectly willing to work hard at THAT.

Although I suppose there is something to what you're saying about challenge. Sigh. Too bad. I really just want a magic wand that gives me everything I want.

Let me know if you find one.

Bryan Russell said...

I have one! And YOU can get YOURS for only three easy payments of $39.99!

Note to consumer: product may not work as well as advertized when employed in a real life setting.

dolorah said...

I like your response Ink: basically, there is always something else to do, to discover. Thanks for articulating my own personal insights.


Mira said...

Ink, regarding the magic wand,

I'll take 25,000,000,000 please.

Can you put that on my credit card? That works just like a magic wand. Free money.


Bryan Russell said...

I'm sure VISA will love you. That'll be a lot of interest next month...

Mira said...


I'll just use my magic wand right? Interest, interest, go away.

fatcaster said...

Writing is hard, damn hard, wonderfully hard. It's solitary confinement and self-doubt. It's that old pushing-a-string thing. It's fighting with every word, every sentence, every paragraph, every chapter. It's writing 250 words then shaving them down to 20 and saying, as Hemingway did, "Why some of this stuff is bloody marvelous." (GREAT little book: "Ernest Hemingway On Writing," edited by Larry W. Phillips/Touchstone/New York.) It's also saying, "This sucks. I'm going to bed." :)

Somebody once called writing a long, lonely slog, but I don't see the lonely part. In this life I seem to have chosen work that took time and had to be done solo: field geologist; long-haul trucker (loved it, absolutely freakin' loved it). Now, having learned a few things, I write. Alone. Solitude is the best, in part because you get a lot of inside work done--you clean out your cobwebs, straighten your backbone, become more of who you really are (All that from a happily-married guy who cherishes his wife and the company of friends. :))

Ink, try "Wanderer," by Sterling Hayden (yeah, the actor); "The Cliff Walk," by Don J. Snyder; "Truck Stop," by Marc F. Wise and Bryan Di Salvatore (Bryan is one of our national treasures). Ah, so many books and so little time: nice problem to have. Cheers and good reading to ya.

+1 on the Vietnam books