Saturday, June 19, 2010

Writer's block.

For as long as I've had an online journal -- which has been a fair number of years -- I've told anyone who cared to read my words that I'm a writer. A capital-W Writer, thank you very much, one who has made a living -- tenuous, poor and inconsistent, perhaps, but my continued existence more or less attests to it -- grinding out words.

And, despite my wish to step away from the monster that has consumed me for so long, such money as I've earned in the last few months has come from writing.

Pathetic whore that I am, I suppose I would return to it full-time if the opportunity presented itself. I would rob banks if I possessed the necessary skills, too. Money talks. In my case, it screams.

But I've learned something, and it is a bit painful: I will never be a decent fiction writer, one whose books carry the "x Weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List!" line atop the cover and/or get made into big-grossing movies featuring Big Stars.

I guess I've known that for years, but reading a book that bears both distinctions and a Famous Author* has simply driven the point home like a red-hot rivet shot from a pneumatic gun.

Let it be said that I did not sink to my knees in abject wonder while reading it. No, I am not going to sing the praises of this book. Just the opposite, really; I found it poorly constructed, full of interminable paragraphs formed from fast-drying cement and situations that stretch the definition of "improbable" to new lengths.

And that doesn't even take the stereotyped characters, vapid dialogue and predictable scenes into account.

But hey, it sold. Big buckaroons for author and agent. Zillions of people raved about book and movie.

I am a mercenary kind of guy. Writing the Great American Novel holds no appeal for me, unless it brings me into reach of a Great American Fortune. Having been approached on several occasions to write non-fiction books within my own little field (and turning each offer down), I am aware of the financial details attending authorship, particularly as they relate to factual works.

Had I accepted the ego-stroking offers, I would have reached my current state of whimpering poverty much faster.

It is possible that, with practice, I could learn to emulate some best-selling writers, to adapt their vapid, semi-literate styles -- can you say Clive Cussler? -- for my own, and put myself in line for a pile of spondulics. I'm good at mimicry when I put my mind to it.

But I know, deep down, that any discerning reader would swiftly realize that I was faking it, and would be properly scornful. And would put the book right back on the shelf, unsold.

My own "style" wouldn't work in book-land. In writing for magazines, I learned to create economical prose that fits into small, well-defined spaces. The twists, turns and side-trips of a novel are as foreign to my way of writing as producing original manuscripts in Chinese.

Changing my written ways now would be a monumental task, a case of the-leopard-changing-his-spots much more difficult than I can manage while having to deal with all the other negative nonsense life continues to throw at me. Better -- and faster, and easier -- to become an expert on, say, String Theory.

Oddly enough, I have a couple of embryonic plots for novels stewing in my head. One is based on true-life people in a true-life place**, and would become fiction simply because not enough is known about the protagonists' real lives to come up with 40,000 words about them. Someone tried. And failed miserably.

The other is seems better. Coincidentally, I think it has greater commercial possibilities as well. But I can't write it. I am not "in touch" with the main characters in terms of the lives they would have led, the patois they speak in certain circumstances, or how they would react and adapt to the situations the story would set them in.

All is not lost for the latter idea, though. I know a writer who could produce it with grace and sensitivity***. From time to time, I jot a note or two about it in hopes that I can convince this writer (a friend, mind you) to take a stab at it.

If that never happens, these ideas will simply join many others that formed in my brain, blossomed and withered. Unlike the Unknown Soldier, they will never be memorialized, but will simply end up in some anonymous landfill with other artifacts chronicling my existence. "Pas de biggie," as the French are smart enough not to say....

There's definitely another factor at work here, but I won't go into it. I've written about the fallacy of the "starving artist" argument in the past, and don't want to waste a lot of time exploring the psyche of the emotionally starving artist, even if I think that plays a part in my current inability to write dancing, singing, balletic stories. Stories people would read. Would pay to read.

This has been one of those "inside-baseball" posts that no one in their right mind should read. If you've gotten this far, I feel kinda sorry for you.

If I was a better host, I would have filled this space with jokes.....

* Since I have no desire to be a literary critic, or to displease those who may enjoy this writer's work, I will leave the author blissfully -- and well-set financially -- anonymous.

** My original intention was to write a musical about them. But musicals seem to be out of favor these days, so a novel is the only possible alternative.

*** This writer can -- and does -- write rings around me in any case, even when confined to short-form work. I do sink to my knees in abject wonder when reading anything this person writes.


deb said...

"I am a mercenary kind of guy. Writing the Great American Novel holds no appeal for me, unless it brings me into reach of a Great American Fortune."

Sounds like a Randy Newman reality. I saw an interview during which he was asked what had inspired him to write a particular acerbic and wildly successful song. His simple answer - "I needed the money."

or, as my dad, the engineer, said to my husband, the sculptor..."Why are you doing that stuff (conceptual art and installation pieces)? If you want to make money selling your art, it has to be something people would want to own."

Speaking from massive inexperience I would expect that to write that first novel it would be easier to focus on short episodes, hoping they will eventually be able to be tied together into a longer volume, rather than to start thinking about how large a volume of words will be needed to fill the book.

I'm babbling...

MrScribbler said...

Deb, your approach makes much sense, and is the way I'd do it if/when motivated.

Right now, I'm leaning toward killing off all my characters in Chapter One....

Dorrie said...

I think a lot of those "award winning" novels only sold because they were pushed by their publishers.... the real GOOD novels rarily make those lists!

I bet you could start with some short stories and then increase the length. Come on, you can do it!

deb said...

Just think, you kill 'em all off in Chapter One, then you've got all those chapters following to explain why they deserved it (or not)!

BTW, you write circles around a heck of a lot of stuff that I read.

And I read a heck of a lot of stuff.

BenB said...

I have no idea about novels, but I have read some of your magazine articles in the past and found them fluent, well-constructed and contain the element of interest that keeps the reader engaged.

Anonymous said...

I always enjoyed reading Tom Clancey novels, and liked the way he weaved (?) his plot around some sort of militaria, a topic he seemed quite well versed in. (ex: Hunt for Red October) Could you not take as a background the subject matter you regularly write about anyway (extremely well I might add) and build on that? Hey, Bullitt is still considered a classic 42 years after it was released, and IMO you write better than Steve McQueen acted. :)


Fin said...

I have settled happily into a Robert Ludlum rut and have read over a dozen of his works in succession.

I know not what others may think of his abilities, but although there is inevitable sameness to his works, I find them all to be engrossing and entertaining and enjoyable. Some of his works have become films; many others should.