I’ve written a truckload on this site about what I like to write about besides writing about not writing. I love mysteries. I love science fiction. I love fantasy. I swoon for literary fiction that serves little purpose but to make people swoon.
I have the same problem picking books to read.
It’s almost as if I’m fussing over my literary future when I’m standing in front of the stacks at the library. This internal struggle is made a little more ridiculous by the fact that I have a five year old tugging on one arm and a moody ten year old huffing about the fact that he can’t check out Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the fifteenth time this month. If you saw this in a movie (complete with interior monologue running in subtitles), you’d probably laugh. If you saw it in real life, well, you’d probably laugh too. I should laugh myself, and often I do.
Sometimes though the laughter doesn’t come so easy. I feel incredibly anxious. I feel like I wasting my time with story X or author Y. I feel like I should be writing the books I’m staring at instead of trying to find the right book to read.
With the starting gun of National Novel Writing Month fast approaching (11/1 if you didn’t know), you may be fretting about what you’re going to write about. I know I am.
You may recall that I had an idea for a book and that I was making progress on my notes and outline. This is true. I am making progress. The problem is that the progress is leading to new questions, questions most likely posed by my inner critic (aka The Jerk Who Keeps Me From Writing) under the guise of some rather harmless point about what sort of writer I happen to be.
Obviously, none of this is terribly surprising to me. I also know that I’m not the only writer in the world that sways between ideas and projects. This is something that happens to, um, well… everyone. It’s the nature of the creative mind.
“You may say to yourself that you can’t stand such a narrow, gray life, that you will modify your temperament and your taste, and work into your books some of the sensationalism, violence, shock, sentiment, sex, or Great Issues that you think may make them attractive to a large audience. I doubt you could do it if you wanted to, and I am certain that you shouldn’t try, for you cannot write with a whole heart things that are contrary to your nature. The fine things in your first novel are there because you wrote them with a whole heart, from an intense conviction. Trying to write like those who manage a large popular success, you may succeed, because you have brains and skill; but however proper success may be for others, in you, and on these terms, it will not be legitimate, for you will have stopped being the writer that you respected.” ~ Wallace Stegner To a Young Writer
Mr. Stegner here is trying to convince a young writer to keep at their literary art in the way their heart intended. I’ll admit that it’s more than a bit snobbish in its dismissal of “popular” works, though he does not explicitly rule out success. He’s just trying to be a realist with respect to this particular writer’s talents.
In thinking about my plan for NaNoWriMo, I wonder if I am still playing about with old themes. Themes that I’ve already resolved for myself and whether it isn’t time to just move on to the things I am meant to write.
Finding the thing you are meant to write is a difficult process. I have worked for 20 years to “discover” my true topic and to accept it. I put the word discover in quotes because I’ve always known what I wanted to write. It is the thing I that I have always responded to in fiction.
I’m going to write about this “true topic” in a later post, but I think I’ll stop here and let you have your say. What is your true topic? Do you know? If so, how did you come to understand it? If not, how will you get there?
Doing NaNoWriMo? Buddy up with me!