02 March 2008

"If I weren't going to be a writer, I'd go to New York and pursue the stage..."

I looked at the date of my last post today and got a bit of a shock. January 21st? Goodness. In my defense my life has been busy and I haven't had much to write about, but still. Shouldn't I have a plethora of things to say all the time?

Which leads (somewhat roughly) into my topic for the day. A few weeks ago I sat down with one of my professors. He more or less tossed an imaginary gauntlet on the floor of his office and said something to the effect of: "Joni, you can be a professional writer if you want to be, but you'll have to work harder."

Well. If that didn't smack me back into place a bit.

When I was twelve I was determined to be a writer. I wrote little short stories all over the place, one of which was a twenty or so page epoch tale of a girl on the Oregon Trail complete with birth, death and (naturally) cholera. All the Oregon-Trail-Tale necessities. I remember very vividly telling my sixth grade teacher that one day I was going to be a real published author and that I would dedicate my first book to her. This enthusiasm for the idea of being a writer carried on into high school when I started writing a magical-realism book about a girl in Ireland. She lived in a house with a field of daffodils around it that drove the neighbors mad because they were just so conspicuous. My creative writing teacher told me over and over again that I ought to write professionally. I scorned the rest of the "kids" in my classes that wrote really horrible, sappy poetry. I managed to get published in a magazine. It was a good year.

Then, of course, I went to college. I took one creative writing class that I really didn't like because (a) I didn't have any inspiration to write and, (b) my professor's theory on how you write stories irritated me. I thought it was a load of poo.

I don't know that I've written anything in the creative department since then.

I'm starting to get a bit of that bug back, though. That urge to write something wonderful. In working with this professor on my writing, though, he was speaking specifically about being a professional essayist. Only I don't want to be a professional essayist.

This last statement has a bit of irony to it, really. What have I done the last three years that was anything but essaying? Journaling, I suppose, which is a form of essay. Personal narratives. Nothing creative. Why is that?

Well, I suppose that part of it is because I read a lot of crap. I've always wondered at how some authors manage to get published with the junk they write. It's such an impossible industry to break into and most of it is a load of really horrid writing that somehow manages to strike a literary (or imaginary) chord. Take Twilight for instance - the books are not well written (don't even try arguing with me on this), but they've been selling out all over the place. Nearly every teenage girl in the world has read them and/or made their boyfriends read them (why any high school boy would do that for a girlfriend, I don't know). Or maybe that example isn't fair. I'd use Harry Potter but everyone knows how that turns out too - another random, twist of fate chance that opens up an empire. But what of the great unknown books? There are some incredible storytellers out there that get completely overshadowed in the young adult fiction world by ripping yarns like . . . The Babysitter's Club. One of the reasons why I think I haven't written is because I don't want to write junk.

Then of course there's the fear that all I will have to say will have already been said by someone. Heaven forbid I steal from someone else. I need to be original!! But how can I be original when there have been billions of other stories told? Well, I can't. I don't know that there's any such thing as a truly original story when you pick off all the fluff. I just have to find a way to tell the same story in a new enough way that it tricks people. How do you do that?

Hindrance number three: I'm a historical purist. I don't want to write anything modern, but if I'm going to write something historical I want to make sure I do it well. And, while I'm at it - I don't much fancy setting anything in America either. I suppose the upside is that I would get to travel back to my beloved England for field research . . . maybe this isn't such a hindrance after all . . .

Another question, then - why did I have to grow up into a realistic sort of mindset that keeps pestering me by saying "chances are you'll fail, why even start"? What ever happened to that twelve year old inside me that said I would put my teacher's name on the dedication page of my first book and knew that eventually I would? Whatever happened to "the glory and the dream"?

So for now, I'm trying to come up with ideas. I still rather like the idea of that little story I was working on all that time ago. With a little refinement of course - maybe I can come up with some solid conflict and say something worth reading. Until then, though - it's definitely given me some things to think about. What is it about growing up that makes us so boring in how we dream? What's wrong with wanting something wonderful? Or is it just that our idea of "wonderful" shifts? Is that settling? Or is that just living "responsibly"?


Ben said...

Um, yes, Joni, you do need to start doing creative writing again. Seriously. You'll be awesome. I want to see you as a professional writer. :)

The Girl in the Other Room said...

Me too! I went through this disollusionment a few years ago. I realized that everything I was defining myself as was no longer a part of my life. It was sad.

Then I got over it and started writing again. I have so many story ideas in my head that I can't get them down on paper/computer screen fast enough.

I do envy you for your essay abilities. You are a much better writer in that respect that anyone I know (except perhaps Liz. You are both so good!)

Share the wealth and start writing creatively again!