[written in…

[written in transit]

Oh, munchkins. Tired. The flight delayed, and delayed again, and finally cancelled. And they want us back here insanely early, and so instead of sleeping tonight, I stay awake and am just grateful there's an all-night Starbucks in the airport, with hot chocolate and comfy overstuffed chairs. Two of my Chicago-bound compatriots are asleep on either side of me. I'm too awake for that -- instead I read and read some more, until I grow sick of reading. There will be more to come, and I'm only glad that I have sufficient books; yesterday Derek took me to Forbidden Planet, the sf bookstore at Tottenham Court Road, and I picked up Robin Hobb's Assassin trilogy, fine fat epic fantasy. I've finished one book and am halfway through the second -- it seemed a good spot to pause and do something else for a change.

I brought The Fellowship of the Ring with me, the extended DVD that Kevin bought me last Christmas. I find it immensely comforting, somehow. It's playing on a half-screen now while I type, the fellowship turning from the mountain pass to attempt the mines of Moria. I don't need to pay much attention; I've seen this movie too many times, read the book even more often. I know what happens next -- they search for the door to Moria, that will only be revealed once they figure out the hidden clue. I remember how that puzzle delighted me, when I first read it, at least two decades ago. It was a delightful moment of humor, Gandalf befuddled -- in the midst of so much darkness, a welcome relief. And there it is -- Frodo solves the puzzle and they think themselves safe, you breathe a sigh of relief. But it's about to get much much worse. Goblins ahead of them, lake monsters behind them -- just no fun at all.

Sometimes I feel so beleaguered, when I try to figure out what to write. On the one hand, I love this stuff. Utterly love it. Light vs. darkness, glory and tragedy and yes, beautifulest ladies. It just sounds like it should be so much fun, writing that kind of book. But I've tried to write them, and they come out terrible -- not just shlock, but bad shlock. Boring shlock. And maybe I just need more practice, but time given to that is time taken away from something else. And I do want to write a Great American Novel, or at least a memorable short story, the kind that people read and keep thinking about, the sort that pops up in their minds years later. It's not really a longing for fame, though I think I would enjoy fame. I enjoy the little bits and bobs of it I encounter on occasion, when I get to be a big fish in a small pond. :-) But it's really about doing something worthwhile, something worth giving time and energy to. Something that might qualify as Art.

I was talking to Kirsten, and she tried to convince me that I shouldn't worry about it so much, that it was hard enough for most people to just make their lives happy and pleasant. But I can't help it -- I worry. In part it's because Kevin's been supporting me a fair bit this last year, and I may well ask him to support me more. It's hard to do that, unless I can really believe in what I'm doing. Of course, he enjoys his own work -- it's not as if I'm asking him to go slave in a coal-mine so I can lie about in a garden and think airy thoughts. But still -- if I'm not going to be putting in my fair financial share, I'd like to be able to tell him that I think I might actually write something good someday.

And of course, it's not just Kevin. It's mostly just me. It's sort of a sense of noblesse oblige, and I'm not just being silly about being King right now. I just feel -- overwhelmed sometimes. I was born with a fair bit of privilege, you know. My dad's a doctor, and my parents paid to send me to good schools. That was given to me, and whatever brains I got were given to me too -- it's not as if I did anything to earn them. I guess I've read enough heroic fantasy that somewhere along the line I did absorb the idea that if you're given much, then you have to give much yourself. You have to pass it on. And it's a lot easier to see how you're giving on if you're a doctor (like my sisters) than a writer.

I know a lot of my writer friends have to deal with a lot more day to day questioning about all this than I do. Mostly I tend to have faith that if I just keep doing this, keep working at it, I will get better. It almost seems inevitable. But every once in a while, I wonder if I'll get enough better. Maybe I'll never write a great literary novel. Maybe I'll never write an inspiring epic fantasy, the kind that makes you want to be a hero, want to go out and help save the world. I've spent ten years on this so far, off and on, and when I read the great books (or watch the movies based on the great books), it sometimes feels hard to breathe, when I realize how far I still have to go. And I don't work as hard or as much on the writing as I ought -- I take every opportunity to go do something else, in fact, and it's amazing that I get any writing done at all. And I think of just chucking it all, going and feeding starving children somewhere, just so I'd know that I was doing was actually worthwhile and not just some aimless girl's entertainment, a way of passing the time and pretending to self-importance.

Sometimes, when it's very late, and I'm very tired, I do worry.

5 thoughts on “[written in…”

  1. Ugh. Mary Anne, you hit many issues that I’ve been struggling with since I started writing. The biggest: do I try to write “important” stuff, or do I have fun and try to write epic tales of heroism and adventure? I seem to be changing my mind about it every other week. Sigh.

  2. I think that producing good art is done mostly unconsciously. Just write what you love and give all the energy you can manage to it, whether that be SF, erotica, heroic fantasy, or mainstream fiction. The angst is most likely counterproductive. Of course, I am speaking as a person who has written very little besides mathematics research papers these past thirty-five years. But the
    Good Ones, that I have received the most acclaim for, were rarely the ones that I thought were the best work at the time I was creating them.

    (I shall break this trend and submit a story to the Blowfish anthology if I get it finished in time.)

  3. It’s a clich, but I think it’s true that writing the stories you would most like to read is often the wisest course.

    I also believe in the enobling qualities of fine craftsmanship. Creating a well-made thing of any kind, be it a chair or a story or a rowboat, is an important human endeavor.

    Also, a story of any kind, format, genre, or commercial category can serve as a vessel for anything a writer wishes to express.

    Finally (I promise!), Fun and Important are not mutually exclusive terms.

  4. Right on, Greg. In fact, I think the most important Important works are the ones that are also the most fun, if only because you reach more people that way. I love it when meaning sneaks into something I’m reading for entertainment value. Literary stories written for an already well-educated/ academic audience are often just preaching to the choir.

    Speaking of cliches, I also love yours 🙂 Very good writing advice, that.

  5. So many excellent points touching my own struggle as a writer. Each one that has addressed the original post has touched on significant aspects. I have found that finding something that resembles peace on the issue depends on finding ways in which one knows that a meaningful contribution is made that allows us to move into being a part of a solution.

    This has been especially helpful in juggling my passion for erotica and demands of motherhood. The two don’t seem immediately compatiable, but I can see how it has colored my writing. I am very pro-woman, I write erotica that affirms personal power. I think this helps me feel my writing is another way of serving others…obviously I feel that way about being a mom. Rather than writing a specific type of story I search for specific kinds of characters on introspective journeys that happen to embrace eroticism.

    The one thing I know is that artist…writers, create because we have to. Repressing this need is damaging, it must be given voice and there is always a way to do it so that it has personal meaning. What others get from it…no point in really worrying about that since we, as creators, have so little control over it.

    All the best!

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