Tuesday, July 04, 2006

So I'm writing this novel...

Wait! Please! Don’t run away! I promise you I’m not going to abuse you with an endless discussion of my feelings and my genius and how if only my genius could convey the vast richness of my feelings, I would be the greatest author who ever lived and everyone on earth would be moved to cleansing tears by the story of how I was really, really sad one time. I hate that pompous tortured bookworm shit and I’m not about to subject you to any of it.

Let me start over again. So I’m writing this novel and it’s really, really hard...

Hey! Where are you going? Get back here! I swear to Jesus Christ himself that I’m not about to start in on some obnoxious rant about how society treats its artists like dirt and forces them into demeaning, low-paying day jobs while their precious souls long to pour forth pure wisdom and beauty. I wouldn’t dream of doing that to you. I hail from the hard-ass side of artsy-fartsistan and I understand most obscure creative types deserve to stay that way. I also believe that the years and years poverty and neglect that writers typically suffer is a great way to weed out the ones who can’t hack it or are in it for the wrong reasons. So there.

Are we cool? We are? Alright then: so I’m writing this novel and it’s really, really hard. No sooner do I finish a paragraph than I cross that same paragraph out. What seemed at the moment like a perfectly decent arrangement of sentences suddenly reveals itself to be ungainly, stilted crap not fit for even the most fatuous writers circle. I start again, cross everything out again, start a third time, stare off into space for awhile, start, stop, stare, start, stare, stop, and then walk away, all the while wondering whether I wouldn’t be better off going back and crossing some more stuff out. It’s frustrating. Of course, anything worth doing is usually frustrating, but tell that to all my drained and defeated pens, my scratched up legal pads, and those ten thousand hours I’ve spent cursing out my inner muse.

To me, writing a novel is not an emotional journey, a therapeutic affair, or anything having to do with self-discovery. Instead, it is more like a puzzle to be solved. How do I say what I want to say? How do I get the characters from point A to point B? How do I increase suspense without being obvious about it? How do I make this guy’s dialogue sound different from that other guy’s? All of these, however, are subsumed by the bigger question: how do I get the reader to turn the page? Because that’s all I really want to happen. I want some theoretical person to be interested enough in what I’m saying to read my story. How do I keep this person entertained? How much weirdness and sick humor will they accept? How much leeway with realism will they give me? When should I indulge them and when should I try their patience?

These are, of course, impossible questions. Your imaginary readership will never answer them for you. You have to rely on your own aesthetic judgement, but you have to be self-aware enough to know when you’ve replaced the audiences needs with your own. I think it was B.R. Myers who said that most American novels these days are nothing more than a three hundred page caption for the picture on the back flap of the dust jacket. That is all too true. Contemporary authors have allowed the novel to become the most solipsistic art-form out there: is it any wonder so many potential readers connote literature with exhaustion and boredom? I don’t want to be boring. I suppose that’s the main thing.

I suppose if there was rule hard and fast rule that every writer has to follow, it would be that: DON’T BE BORING. So, while the labor of creating a novel might be arduous, relentless, and–yes–dull, the final product of all that toil must not be. It’s a hard trick to pull off, as I’m finding out.

And I’m only on the second goddamn chapter.