Wednesday, September 27, 2006

First Full Day of Writing

Words of Encouragement

Today is your first day. Of course you will be battering your head against a twenty-foot thick wall of stone and mortar. You yourself built this wall. It will take time to dissolve. So batter away, my child. Remember you must unplug the floodgates you were forced to seal so you could get on with the rest of your life for so many years, you must allow twenty-one years worth of bad ideas to pour through before the wine distilled beneath them, the diamonds created by the crushing pressure of their weight, can emerge into the light. Accept, with freeing joy, the truth that everything you write this week will crash and burn. That is what this week is for. It is the first week. Train your brain, your body into the rhythm of this new, this impossible, this unnatural life you have the blessing to pursue, but do not question whether you are right to do so, whether you are cut out for this promethean task. Prometheus enlightened man, yes, but how did he pay? Daily his liver torn from his body by birds, all talons, beaks, sharp eyes, stiff feathers. You are at the liver-eating part of this story—for you that comes before the fire. This perhaps does not sound as encouraging as this collection is supposed to be, but don’t forget: his liver grew back every day. Head, wall, batter. You’ll make it through eventually.

Am I Cut Out to Write Fiction?

I write best in the form of an essay or a journal entry—in a kind of reflective, philosophical, direct-address-to-the-reader sort of tone. The creation of character, the invention of setting, the supple clay of fiction feels strange, awkward in hands used to chiseling into the marble of pure hard intellectual ideas. Well, this is natural. I have spent the vast majority of my writing life crafting essays and journal entries, I have filled one, two dozen notebooks with musings, ponderings, observations. Whereas my forays into fiction have produced a few fitful, half-filled spiral-bounds and a small collection of largely unfinished plays. All this implies two things: (1) I am well set to flow forth with non-fiction-type reflective, philosophical stuff, which there is certainly a market for in newspapers, magazines, and theological and self-help sections of the bookstore, and (2) if I put as much time into working on fiction as I have to date put into more concrete literary endeavors, it stands to reason that I shall see improvement as marked as that between my first and my most recent journal entries, between third grade book reports and college research papers. I think age has not bolstered those writing abilities nearly as much as experience, and so I cannot despair at my fiction-writing abilities until I have given them as much attention as I thus far have allowed to those forms of writing in which I currently feel quite confident.

Character Development

It is a dangerous sign, I think, that the sole empty page in my book of writing ideas is the one marked, in hope, with the heading, “Characters.” I created this page fully aware of the fact that characters are the driving force of plays, novels, screenplays—of life. I believe in the value of human beings, the truth that only that which is personally relevant is likely to be internalized by a reader, an audience. I believe that our purpose in life is to relate to, to support, to give ourselves in love to, the people around us. I collect quirks, I revel in the individualities of the children of God I encounter. But I am too caught up in my own mind, the ideas I want to get across, the self-centeredness of my approach to life, and so in my ideas and writing do not often give birth to characters. As a result my fiction itself is often stillborn. I find it difficult to translate the uniquenesses of the people I meet into inspiration for complex characters, and I fear that if I do not address this weakness my writing will remain flat and unimpactful. It feels so backwards to me to start here, without a plot or theme, and yet it should be out of love for the characters, and not desire to make a particular point, that I begin a story. Perhaps in time these things will fall into place in harmonious simultaneity; in the meantime, at the moment, as evidenced by that aforementioned ominously blank page, my agility in creating character falls far behind my abilities in other areas of literary invention. So, here is a place for me to practice the process of fictional portraiture. I warn any stumbling across this document that, especially at first, I anticipate rocky footing. Bear with me. Or don’t. What is important at this point is that I bear with myself.

Ginger Jack

To describe Jack Westmore, it was only fitting one should begin by describing Ginger Jack. Everything began with Ginger Jack—he was this ideal human who seemed to float along prophetically just ahead of That Other Jack (as even he had by now come to think of himself), making his subsequent arrival anticlimactic, redundant. Ginger Jack was funnier, more adventurous, better-looking, more outgoing, slightly better off financially but quiet about it, and he had some really cool and unusual pet. The Other Jack didn’t know what kind of pet that was, but he was sure somebody would tell him soon, despite the fact that any time Ginger Jack was brought up in conversation with him—which was frustratingly frequently—he did everything in his power to deflect the inevitable laundry list of virtues to follow. This began with subtle attempts to change the subject, but quickly degenerated through reasoned requests, bitter protests, and self-pitying pleas into loud babbling streams of nonsense yelled over his shoulder as, fingers wedged in his ears, he scurried as far as possible from the offending and persistent individual.