Thursday, October 13, 2016

Thoughts on The Art of Writing

Several years ago I read a short, nonfiction article written by a famous science fiction author about an encounter he had with excited but ignorant fan. This author, who was doing the usual promotional duties for his new novel had just spent several long hours sitting in a book store signing his name and answering stupid questions from both fans and those with no idea how hard it is to write. Now the author admitted in the article he was tired and uncomfortable from sitting to long in what was probably the worst location in the book store. As the hours passed, he felt increasingly cramped and frustrated but through it all he kept a pleasant demeanor for those buying his book. However, it was a offhand and stupid comment from a fan that almost pushed him over into a mental abyss. I can't remember the exact words but the encounter went something like this:

The fan, a young man in his twenties, steps up to the small table the author is sitting at and hands him the newly purchased book to sign. “Sir,” The fan begins, “I just want you to know I really love your work.” He finishes saying as he nervously fidgets in from of the author.

The author, as anyone could expect, is happy that not only is someone buying his book but loves his other novels. “Thank you,” the author replies taking pen in hand to sign the book. “What other books of mine have you read?” The author innocently asks.

The fan then lists several of the authors previous works, all big with the science fiction crowd, and a few that ended up the New York Times bestsellers list. It is at this point in the article that the author admits he was rather enjoying the conversation with this fan, until the young man unknowingly dropped a bomb on the author's ego.

“Yeah,” the fan says, “your writing is so simple and clean it proves anyone could write a bestseller.”

It is at that point that the fan takes back the book he purchased from the now stunned author and walks away. The author then writes that it only took a few seconds for him to recover but the question he desperately wanted to ask the fan was that if it's that damn easy why don't you write one yourself.

The reason I bring this up was that while I am only a crappy blogger, I had my own encounter with a nitwit who somehow believes writing is some simple task anyone could take up. I've been doing this blogging stuff for over nine years now and in my own way I have felt the inspiration, disappointment, and the simple persistent satisfaction of doing something just for the sake of blowing off steam. However, the one thing this futile endeavor has never been is simple. As anyone can tell, I don't initially spend a lot of time on such extravagant things like proofreading. But even a crappy sub-hack like me can say that creating just a short story is a complex process that can, and has, fallen apart many times. I can only imagine what a true novelist has to go through to transfer the often nebulous ideas running around his or her head to paper or laptop screen.

My encounter with the nitwit was indirectly the result of me mentioning once to someone I trusted that one of my hobbies was writing. The only things that causes people to run away faster after mentioning you write is telling them you sing or that you have new vacation pictures you want to show everyone. That was the case with the person I told, after giving a basic rundown of what I did he gave me one of those vague nods before changing the subject. Truthfully, I didn't brag about my efforts, or even worse, try to get him to read some of my stuff. Conversely, I pretty much did the same to him when he started talking about all the years he played his electric guitar and his efforts at organizing a band. Once the conversation played out neither of our hobbies were ever mentioned again.

Apparently electric guitar dude did mention my writing to the nitwit who recently asked me, with a straight face, why hadn't I published any of my stories. Amazon's publishing of e-books by unknown writers to be read on their Kindle tablets not withstanding, I tried to explain to this nitwit that you just don't randomly throw several thousand words together and call it a book. The analogy I used was that writing a book is like woodcarving, you start out with a rough draft of what you want to do source material and then proceed to refine the design as you go. Well, by the utter blank look on the nitwit's face my words went over like the proverbial lead balloon.

Strangely enough, I soon began to view my failure to get the nitwit to understand the complex nature of writing as a statement on my ability to convey an idea. It was then that I fully understood why that famous author I mentioned earlier wanted to run up to the ignorant fan and beat the crap out of him. Further threatening my crumbling faith in the average idiot walking down the street, it was then that I began to get an idea why a lot of famous authors were alcoholics.


Unknown said...

It's not simple but it's great if it seems simple.

Velvet Underground's music was only three chords and it seemed simple and inspired a lot of good (and bad) bands to give it a go.

Syd Barrett's and Phillip Glass's music seemed so simple a 5 year old could do it. A 5 year old didn't do it, but maybe it all inspired smoke to give it a go.

It's hard to make things look easy, in the end. But if someone wants to believe writing or music or art is easy, then fine by me. Making it all complicated would be way easier.

Deron said...

Great piece and yet so true, sir.

sage said...

You're right, it's not easy and is often lonely... Suicide and writing also seems to go together, but don't let that get you down :).

The Bug said...

I've had relatives ask why I haven't published my poetry. A. It ain't all that (but thanks for the vote of confidence Auntie!); B. The process of getting anything published is not easy! And that world has changed so much (self-published kindle books, etc.) - it hardly seems worth the effort if you're not really invested in the process.

Beach Bum said...

Nasreen: In a way I imagine the fan in the book store was trying to give the author a compliment but something big got lost in translation. As for the nitwit on my end, he's just stupid, to the point people like him really shouldn't be allowed to breed.

Deron: What's the old saying about critics. Something like those that can create, those that can't just sit back and criticize or say the efforts of others are no big deal.

Sage: The funny thing is that nitwit is obsessed with getting rich, He has countless ideas but never gets past the two cases of beer he drinks on the weekend. That was a mean thing to write but he's been getting on my nerves lately.

The Bug: I've looked into the Amazon self publishing angle several times but I've read a lot of these unknown authors, quite frankly many of their works are awful. I simply do not want to throw something on Amazon for sale, even for a buck, without it being decently edited. I get seriously embarrassed when I fine typos and careless mistakes on my blog postings.

Pixel Peeper said...

Part of my job is to proofread reports...I know how difficult it can be to get just the right idea across when you are writing engineering reports. I can imagine it is infinitely more difficult when writing fiction, trying to convey moods, thoughts, situations, and personalities of characters in your work.

My hat is off to you!

Marja said...

Hope all is well with you. It is indeed a laborious job which requires a lot of concentration and time. But as usual people who are ignorant in any matters from writing to anything else just judge as they don't know what they are talking about. I do admire your persistence and passion to write

Alaska with attitude said...

Amen, brother. Between blank stares and comments like I wish i had the time to write a book, I cringe every time the subject comes up. Keep in mind H. L. Menken's statement Writing (a column) is easy. All you do is sit there until beads of blood form on your forehead.