Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Deceptively Simple: The Writing Game

This thing we do called writing is deceptively simple. Not only does it require copious amounts of time, but the reward and satisfaction can take months, years even, to come full circle. It’s a curious thing how any artist creates their art--not just the actual process involving paint or instruments or dance, but the compulsion. What compels art? Specifically, what compels writing?

Often when I’m online I see profiles on various websites where people say, for example, that they love horses, have a nickel collection, and like to write. Sometimes it seems to me as if the whole world is full of writers. I think this is true, to the extent that everyone has stories, and because we live in an mostly educated world, everyone has the skills needed to put those stories on paper.

Verbal story tellers have their own place, of course, and that’s an interesting talent because it’s very immediate, both the telling and the hearing happen simultaneously. For introverted writers, that would be a quite frightening proposition, and yet the reception of the work is very live and vibrant. Many people have written about the sound of spoken words (often relating back to poetry), and it really is a different way of thinking about story.

So even in trying to introduce what I want to talk about already we’ve encountered several fairly complicated ideas, and we haven’t even been discussing the mechanics of a novel or a short story or a poem.

My mother always says my dad is a story teller. He is great at telling jokes at Thanksgiving and stories of things that happened when he and his siblings were kids. When I was younger, he used to tell me and my younger sister stories--that is, until we started to “interfere” too much by telling him what we wanted the story to be about. Why did we need him if we were going to dictate the entire thing?

Maybe the fact that my dad said we might as well tell our own stories started something in me and is part of my compulsion to write. I found that his stories, and our involvement in his stories (“you should make the character shoot lightening bolts from his hands!”) were often wish-fulfillment oriented. I think this is something many writers start with, turning to the page as a way of fulfilling things they can’t in their lives, and so begins the complications. Intentions led to words.

Another reason writing can be deceptively simple is that it does not involve muscle-memory the way learning an instrument does (unless you count learning to type). It is not immediate (you cannot demonstrate your skill instantly as you can with an instrument), and even if you want to show someone what you’ve done, it takes them awhile to read. A series of paintings or photographs can be viewed much more quickly, even when the viewer lingers.

Drawing to the conclusion of this post, I find I am more interested in what makes writers tick than by the original question. If you have any thoughts, they would be welcome here.


Zomzara said...

There are several things that your post made me think of. One is that I feel language/ writing is the least natural of all media. It’s a highly complicated skill; to be able to decipher pictures that represent sounds that often represent abstract ideas. Sometimes I think of 1984 and Newspeak. We rely on language to communicate things, and most people will think heavily in words. However, words are merely things that represent wordless thoughts. What if we can’t find the word that represents the way we feel, we have to find a word that is as close as we can get, but might not exactly match, so perhaps this actually alters the way we feel and think.
I think language is very powerful because of its complexity.

Anyways, I’m too tired to explain what I really mean.

The other thing was that when I make something like a stuffed bear or a basket, I feel bogged down and pissed off while I’m making it. It feels like a slog. But then it’s done and I feel pride and the object I made is amazing. With writing it’s the other way around. I feel pride and intense happiness while in the process of writing. But when I’m done and I look back on my creation I feel disappointed, downbeat, that I have just wasted my time. Weird.

There’s some stuff in this post I really relate to. I mean, I went to art school. There I leant about communicating messages via images and the immediacy and power of that. Everyone around me was so image based. They hated words. Their language was visual. I found that really interesting, and that was partly why I chose to study art rather than writing, to get into the mindset of people who do not understand language or recognise it as a method of communicating anything beyond the everyday necessities. Cool stuff is communicated with pictures. Boring stuff is communicated with words. Comics is where those ideas crash together, comics and illustrated stories. Studying art made me want to make more comics, more illustrated stories, to reach those audiences who think words are boring. Because words are not always boring. Reading is a high level skill, and kids need to have a gradual stepping stone approach to reading, otherwise they’ll drown in the words and stop reading altogether. Their vocabulary will become limited, so too will their thought patterns. They will continue to harbour the illusion that words are boring and pictures are cool. I also think younger readers need to be rewarded for their efforts in reading, because it is a great effort when compared to flicking through a book of photos or playing a video game. Stories for 14-20 year olds need to be grittier, to contain things that are shied away from in the media that is easy to access, such as film and TV. The YA publishing world shies away from sex, violence, drugs, basically all the stuff this age group are interested in (like it or not). So books are twee. If a kid wants to read about cool stuff, they have to read adult books and everyone knows that a 15 year old does not care about adult lives, they need characters their same age that they can directly relate to.
Well anyway, that’s what I’m working on at the moment with my current novella (a project that started out being the flash fiction month thing, but has now started to become a novella, hopefully illustrated by some folks I met at art school.)

Post a Comment