December 21, 2009

Tradition

Christmas is about tradition, among other things. And that’s also what writing is about (in some ways).

A story is not just one person’s experience or creation; it’s also a dialog with all the writers that that author has read. Some of that shaping is conscious ~ “I liked how that book was structured. Let’s see if I can use it.” ~ while a lot of it is not. There’s a lot of work being done down there in the depths of a writer’s mind and emotions. A story line or an image will just seem right, whereas another writer would take the story in a totally different direction. One of the many things that makes writing so mysterious.

This is why it’s so important to read ~ for pleasure, of course, but also for craft ~ it would be a pretty solipsistic conversation without it. I’ve been told that there are writers who don’t read much ~ about which I was shocked! (I’ve never understood people who boast about being dumb or about writers who boast about not being readers. Totally incomprehensible to me.) Maybe they’re writers who are just starting out, I don’t know. What impulse would prompt a writer to go through the roller coaster from hell that is writing, other than admiration for other people’s work and his or her own pleasure in reading? Fame? Money?

Then again, it’s hard to place your own work in a tradition, unless you’re consciously doing so. Genre writers may have it somewhat easier ~ they have a ready-made list of comparisons, though their work may be very different from what’s gone before. If you’re trying to just write your own story, or write literary fiction (which often doesn’t follow as-firmly established conventions), it may be harder to place. I know it was for me. (This may say more about me than about what I write.) But no one’s story is without precedent. There are always comparisons.

I guess I shouldn’t make generalization about this because when it’s your story it’s complex and you can see connections to all kinds of things. It’s hard to reduce it to anything ~ I imagine it’s this way when you write genre too.

A long rambling post just to say: it’s good to know where we’ve been. It’s a lot less lonely, and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

What I’m Reading Today: Finished The Graveyard Book. A very good read. Reading more short stories from the Anchor Book and discovering some wonderful writers I hadn’t read before.

No comments: