Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Backtracking

I started writing something for this blog this morning, relating my feelings and apprehensions about a future event that involves several other people. And I stopped, unsure of how to make it right.

Ms. Didion said "Writers are always selling somebody out." The quote is overused, of course; it is often misunderstood. It is sometimes assumed to mean that writers are always on the lookout for a story, the story, a subversive way to undercut your subject matter.

What she meant, however, is that no matter how close you are to the subject, no matter how elegant or respectful your intentions, your perspective on a series of events, or another person's experience is still your intractable perspective. You are always viewing the material from the outside; you are viewing it as just that: material.

I am better suited to writing fiction, where I can wrap the real events in layers of structure and character, mix plot with pacing to remove all traces of the veracity of the situation. I am not good at "reporting."

7 comments:

Witold Fitz-Simon said...
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Witold Fitz-Simon said...

I'm kind of a fan of "The L-Word" on Showtime because it's a really well-told soap. There is one character in it that cracks me up. I can't decide if she a great character or if she's awful. It's the transitioning bi/lesbian writer (whose name I forget). They backed off this particular aspect of her character a bit in the second season, but in season 1 she was classic. She's an aspiring writer, but the producer's idea of a writer is someone who has to experience everything she writes about. She writes lots of short stories featuring a thinly-veiled autobiographical protagonist -- Jenny Schechter is the character's name. It just came back to me -- and she forces herself to do all these extreme (for her) sexual things so she can write about them. And of course one of them is to sleep with a woman, and then her husband reads the story and drama ensues. I would watch these sequences with a combination of absolute horror and genuine amusement at the narcissistic banality of the character.

But now that I think about it, almost everything I wrote about when I was still writing fiction was completely autobiographical. Actually, it wasn't. Not literally. But thematically, very much so. All my characters were at once embodiments of everything I wished I and my life could be, while being threatened by the worst possible extrapolation of what was going on around me.

In the last story I wrote (and I think the best), I even named the protagonist in the first third the nickname my father used to call me! But then I got really pissed off with him and killed him off and replaced him with his 14-year-old sister who was much angrier and far more effective. I stopped writing fiction after that. I didn't feel like I needed to any more.

Witold Fitz-Simon said...

BTW, I deleted the first posting of this comment because it was full of typos.

Lee Houck said...

I am not one of those people who believe that writers must experience everything that we write about. But in a strange way, I think we write about what has happened to us anyway.

I try to write about things that scare me, to write about them in order to figure out just exactly what I think about them. And someone, I forget who, said that "That which we are most afraid of has already happened to us."

And I find that no matter what I write, I am essentially writing about the same ideas.

So perhaps, we're all just standing in the crossroads. Forever.

SmokyMtnMander said...

You can't stand at the crossroads forever. You just can't. At some point, as a writer, you have to make a commitment. You must take a stand. Any stand, so long as you take it.

It think, and this is coming from someone with no experience as a writer (so keep that in mind), that what separates those who are destined for Reader's Digest and those who document the struggles of humanity, be it as a reporter or in fiction, is their dedication, not their wishy-washyness.

Some will stand at the crossroads wondering which road to take. Some will never take another step forward.
Some decide for themselves which road they will take, be accountable, and never look back.

Lee....take the step, and be great.

Lee Houck said...

You're absolutely right, the act of writing is in itself taking a stand. In fact, one of the reasons I'm drawn to fiction is the ability to make truth out of incongruous events, to create histories that manifest into new ideas, and to create that surprise in the reader that is sometimes (though not always) missing from journalism.

But the forces are still at work here: juggling your work with your relationships with your partner and family and friends, New York economic immobility, your own artistic doubts, not to mention (and I don't think this is a leap here) family history of depression, alcoholism and potential bipolar disorder.

These aren't crutches; that isn't what I'm trying to say. You just sit down at your computer a little bit every evening and try to get out of your own way.

Thanks for the encouragement.

MotherTisa said...

Not to mention a family history of determination to overcome negatives and move on; trust and confidence that the right choices will be made; and above all unconditional love, support, and encouragement to achieve whatever goals you set for yourself.

One of the most difficult things to do is stay out of the way.