In today’s Journal
* Quotes of the Day
* Create or Construct: Your Choice
* Of Interest
Quotes of the Day
“[Imagination] is the one thing besides honesty that a good writer must have. … If he gets so he can imagine truly enough, people will think that the things he relates all really happened and that he is just reporting.” Ernest Hemingway
“[S]imiles are like defective ammunition (the lowest thing I can think of at this time).” Ernest Hemingway
Interviewer: “Do you know what is going to happen when you write a story?”
Hemingway: “Almost never. I start to make it up and have happen what would have to happen as it goes along.”
“Last year, Lily Anolik wrote an article in Vanity Fair that documented the search for the “real” Judy Poovey. Everyone was sure she was a thinly disguised real person. … But guess what? Nobody has found the “real” Judy Poovey. And that’s probably because Donna Tartt is a talented fiction writer who can make stuff up.” Anne R. Allen
Create or Construct: Your Choice
If you write like a writer with your creative subconscious, you will create. If you write like a critic, with your conscious, critical mind as most of the world recommends, you will construct.
Writing like a writer is fun and exhilarating. The experience is an odd combination of excitement and anxiety as you plunge into the unknown, yet always with the knowledge that you will not be physically harmed.
Writing like a critic is work. There is no fun or exhilaration because you know every step of the way what will happen next. The “work” is forcing your way through the boredom of already knowing the story from beginning to end.
Writing like a critic is timid, hesitant, and predicated by unreasoning fear. You HAVE to outline and plot and plan because What if some unexpected event happens? What if a character goes off-script or out-of-character in his or her physical reaction or verbal response?
What if I don’t know in advance what’s going to happen next? What if I lose control of the story and the characters? What if the other writers in the critique group don’t like what I’ve written? And the biggie, What if it doesn’t sell?
Hyperventilating yet? (grin) Of course, the two answers to all of those unreasoning fears is “Doesn’t matter” and “So what?” Because in any of those eventualities, nothing bad will happen. Nothing.
Writing like a critic is also filled with unreasoning fears: Should you write “beneath” or “under”? Should you shorten that sentence? Use a longer paragraph here, a shorter one there?
Know what? Get out of your own way. It really, really, really doesn’t matter.
I’ve talked about the myths of writing a lot in the Journal, but I don’t think I’ve ever talked about their source. Many of them came from traditional publishing—required page counts for certain genres (and therefore “padding” text), for example, or the need to rewrite to satisfy one agent’s or editor’s personal taste.
But most of the myths came from people we trusted, our teachers and professors. The problem is, they learned those same myths from critics and other deconstructionists, not from active long-term short story writers and novelists.
That’s like learning how to walk a tightrope from Inspector #6 in a cord manufacturing facility or learning fine carpentry from a building inspector or taking film-making advice from a movie buff.
None of us would entertain doing any such thing, yet we buy “how-to” writing books from people who have never written a novel, and we take MFA degrees from authors who have published not at all or only minimally.
In yesterday’s post (https://hestanbrough.com/going-for-an-mfa/) I wrote that according to the fear-based rules practically all of us are taught, the second “step” to writing (after oulining, etc.) is to “write, but mechanically, consciously, critically, carefully, word by word, sentence by sentence, being sure to include ‘rising action,’ ‘mirror moments,’ ‘plot points,’ ‘plot twists,’ and all the other deconstructionist BS ad nauseam.”
In other words, you should apply what you learned from those who have bought into the critical, deconstructionist BS, like your teachers.
In schools, even high schools maybe and certainly in colleges, students are taught to be critics, not writers.
They’re taught to dissect and “deconstruct” poems and stories and novels, and they are led to find all sorts of things that simply aren’t there, or at least that the writer didn’t purposely put there. Then, by extension, they’re taught it’s important to add those same things to their work, again consciously.
Hemingway, in talking about “symbolism” in The Old Man and the Sea, wrote, “Then there is the other secret. There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is sh*t. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”
And when Frank O’Connor was asked about the symbolism in “Guests of the Nation,” he said (paraphrasing), “Any symbolism anyone finds in any of my stories is put there by people who need to make grades or write critical articles. I didn’t put any symbolism in anything. Writers don’t do that. Critics do.”
And there it is. I believe deconstruction is the critics’ way of wrapping their mind around the creative process. They think logically, critically, so they literally can’t imagine how something concrete—a story—can be brought to fruition without that logical, block-by-block, process of construction.
I feel sorry for them. Apparently they lack the ability to simply absorb and enjoy a story or play or film or novel. But that’s their cross to bear, and if deconstruction is a tool they need to make sense of a raw creation, so be it.
But when it’s used by an instructor as a basis to teach writing, deconstruction becomes a major problem. The same teachers and professors who “deconstruct” fiction to look at its component parts also teach that the best way to write a story is to reverse that deconstruction process.
When the deconstructionist instructor notes that a story moves in a certain direction, s/he assumes it was planned that way. Hence, “You must outline.”
When the deconstructionist instructor realizes each character has a history and certain stereotypical traits and certain unique traits and quirks, a new rule is born: “You must create character sketches.”
When a story takes place against a unique background, that too must have been planned. Hence, “You must world build.”
And so on, down through the list. Even after meticulous planning, everything must be accomplished with the conscious, critical mind:
b. write (but not from the creative subconscious)
d. seek and accept critical input
e. rewrite to apply the critical input
f. send to beta readers for more critical input
That isn’t creation, folks, it’s construction.
Of course, it’s all up to you. If you want to do that, put on your hard hat and go for it. But if you want to experience the sheer joy of creativity, sit down, put your fingers on the keyboard, and write whatever comes. As Dean Wesley Smith says, “Dare to be bad.” Take a chance.
You’ve been learning and absorbing Story all your life. Trust yourself, trust what you know, and trust your characters as they convey the story that they, not you, are living.
Oh, and if you start to feel stuck, that’s okay too. It’s all part of the process. Don’t be afraid, don’t worry about where the story’s “going,” and for goodness’ sake don’t “make up” or force anything.
Just write the next sentence, whatever comes. Then the next, then the next, and so on. Soon you won’t be stuck. You’ll be exhilarated and flying along in the story once again.
But as I’ve written here before and as I alluded to above, to do that you have to take off the Authorial robes and come down out of the ivory tower. Be a real writer. Slip into a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. Then roll off the parapet into the trenches of the story and race through it with your characters. Enjoy the story as it unfolds around you.
That’s where the fun is, and that’s where creation happens.
Talk with you again soon.
See “What’s Autofiction? …” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/whats-autofiction-should-you-fictionalize-the-story-of-your-life/.
See “People started to be noticeably nervous …” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/people-started-to-be-noticeably-nervous-when-they-were-coming-near-a-description-of-my-disability/. Just so you know, this is a compilation of a short post (the first paragraph) and various replies. Anyway, I couldn’t begin to agree more. Also see the next item.
See “The Moral Case Against Equity Language” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/the-moral-case-against-equity-language/.
The Journal…………………………………… 1450 words
Writing of Wes Crowley: Deputy US Marshal 2 (WCG9SF4)
Day 1…… 3231 words. Total words to date…… 3231
Day 2…… 2990 words. Total words to date…… 6221
Day 3…… 1805 words. Total words to date…… 8026
Day 4…… 2025 words. Total words to date…… 10051
Total fiction words for March……… XXXX
Total fiction words for 2023………… 52824
Total nonfiction words for March… 4210
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 45540
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 98364
Calendar Year 2023 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2023 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2023 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 72
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
Disclaimer: Because It Makes Sense, I preach trusting your characters to tell the story that they, not you, are living. Duh. See My Best Advice for Fiction Writers at https://hestanbrough.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/My-Best-Advice-for-Fiction-Writers.pdf.