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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Litmus Test for Writers: Yes, I Have to Write!

Writing is not for sissies. Professor Darby Sanders gave one of the presentations at the SCAD writers' conference the weekend of the Decatur Book Festival (August 31st). Instead of giving us an information dump (which I thoroughly enjoy and benefit from as well), he presented us with a series of questions meant to weed out people who might have come to the event thinking that writing was a career option for anyone with a vague idea. Sorry, it's not. It's hard and it takes more dedication than I would be willing to give to anything else in the world (except my beloved husband).

The questions (modified and condensed by my scribbled notes) follow, with my honest answers. A sort of self-interview for those of you who are curious about what's important to me.

1. Should you write what you know or what you love?
Fortunately, we can research even while writing, so the draw toward writing what I love doesn't result in lower quality. And there's really no reason the two can't be the same thing.

2. What part of your body do you use to write?
The right answer here is anything "not with the intellect." The question put a picture in my head of my hands at the keyboard, the fingers furiously gesticulating to express the dictates of a mysterious inspiration. So I suppose I write with my "muse," if that's considered a body part.

3. Which reveals more about the human experience, fiction or nonfiction?
Duh. Fiction can explore the motivations and humanity of actions while nonfiction has traditionally kept to describing merely the actions. On the logic that what people felt while the actions took place is also a fact (even if a less objective one), creative nonfiction has been blurring the dichotomy. But if we're sticking to strict definitions, fiction has infinite capabilities to explore the human condition while nonfiction is limited by empirical experience.

4. Are you in it for the story or yourself?
I write the stories out of a felt need to give a body in the shape of words to these formless gifts that come to me from the cosmos. I know that sounds too otherworldly. To answer the question, story is everything and I don't let my ego get in the way. This self-effacement makes it difficult to actually SELL the stories, since the media is perversely focused on personality, but these questions are about writing, not the aftermath.

5. Do you like to talk or do you have something to say?
I'm an introvert. I only say something if there's something to say, genuinely. Again, for the selling part, I'm going to have to find some extra charisma under a rock somewhere, but at least my writing doesn't have a lot of extra verbiage or ego.

6. Are you cynical or optimistic about humans? Are you interested in them, discouraged by them, or afraid of them? Do you believe people can change?
It's imperative to be fascinated by humans in order to engage in storytelling. Otherwise there's no point at all. There's equally no point if people don't change -- where's the story in that? I'm mostly optimistic, but this question made me think about my current WIP, The Seven Noble Knights of Lara. The original story could be seen as pretty darn pessimistic. There's a risk that I'll try to salvage that as I approach the ending, and I sure hope it turns out believable! Cross your fingers for me!

7. Do you have to write? Do you have to write well?
I absolutely have to write. I don't know what life would be without writing. If no one wants to read it, I can go back to just writing for myself, but I do also feel a need to write well. Writing well increases the quality of life and flatters the language as well as making it less embarrassing to show to others and perhaps sell to them. If I can get my life stabilized, I have a few ideas, aside from writing every day and reading good books, to continue to improve my writing. Wish me luck with that, too.

8. Can you finish or just begin?
I've completed many stories of which I'm proud. Finishing weighs heavy on my mind now as I move into the final chapters of SNKL. Although it's scary and I do tend to have more ideas than I can possibly carry out in several lifetimes, I have to believe that finishing is on the agenda.

9. Would you rather succeed at something you hate or fail at something you love?
There is so much more quality in failing at something you love that I don't even know if I would be capable of succeeding at something I disliked. In other words, give me writing. I'll write and I may well fail, but the love I bring into the world while failing is its own contribution.