February 26th, 2003


the endless witter about writing...

I'm copying this comment of mine from someone else's friends-locked LJ. M asks--and I paraphrase atrociously--whether we have to go deep into ourselves to write effective stories. And I say:

I've had this own question for a while. I read other people's work and sometimes a story will strike me as complex and richly, humanly faceted, with a depth you could peer into for hours, and then I look at my own stuff and think: huh. fluffy. I mean, I write dark stuff, but even a lot of the dark writing still seems to be glossing over the surface. The more I try to adhere to canon, the more of a sham I feel, because I'm focusing so much on surface. You know how you watch a show, and try to absorb it, and then go create--and you want to nail the voices, the way people move, the way they relate. You want to nail dialogue and atmosphere and tone. And so you concentrate on all these details which, as they accumulate, you hope will mimic canon. But it's kind of as if your writing becomes this chameleon--all skin, changing color at will. And you lose sight of the guts; you build from the outside in, not the inside out. There must be other analogies--like, learning a song in another language, but phonetically. Like that.

So anyway, what I'm saying is, I often stop and realize that I don't really *know* the characters I'm writing about. Not at all. I haven't dwelled on them, probed them, turned them inside out. They're just these very elaborate dolls or robots to me. All I care about is that they simulate the emotions I want them to simulate, say the lines I program, in a way that is plausible to me and to readers.

The weird thing is that this seems to be effective for many readers. And most of the time it works for me, too. But now and then...I feel like a hollow man, and I worry that I've lost something as a writer, over time. I was saying recently, in a joking way: I've lost my kink! But I didn't just mean sex, I meant that I've lost a way of approaching writing, a way that dragged the stories up from my gut, all sticky with connective tissue. I think I used to feel greater emotion and urgency, and that because of this I was capable of striking deeper chords. And now I can rarely surprise myself, or find things that move me as I write. I've gotten better at craft, but have misplaced feeling. And I fear becoming one of those writers whose work is glittery and precise as clockwork, but lacks heart and fails to resonate with readers in the best way, in the way that makes them crazy and desperate and wild, like lovers.

Yet again, I should say that this isn't meant to invalidate reader responses to my writing, or to invite protesting cries of "Oh, no, you're *swell*!" It's just the kind of stuff I think about, because as the God-Like Creator of my own words, I veer back and forth between godlike satisfaction and godlike pissiness. It's also pretty repetitive--I know I've mused on this issue before. But like any writer I am capable of chewing over the same thought phrased a hundred different ways.