Apr 23, 2011

A Statement: An Artistic Statement

For my Creative Writing class, we had to write an essay on things we learned this semester, what we liked about writing our novella, etc. Because I love my writing almost as much as I love myself, I wanted to treat you to reading it even before my teacher does. Enjoy.

All my life I've been a story teller. Throughout my formative years, teachers, parents and other adults would call me a liar on occasion, but I never used my gift of gab for selfish gain. Well, practically never. I used to invent stories about wicked dragons and good monsters for friends. I told tales that those creatures were the original residents of our neighborhood and mysterious shapes in rocks and esoteric carvings in trees were remnants of their primordial battles, or records left by storytellers of times past. (This was in Southern California's foothills north of Los Angeles). I came to find out that my friends/ storytelling audience took these tales as fact, and I never corrected them. This was around the time when I was in Kindergarten, and I hope they figured out the tales were fictional by now, although a part of me enjoys indulging in ruminations that I was such a skilled story weaver that they all still somewhat believe. Writing just grew as an extension of my storytelling, a way to remember 'facts' or at least things I said, and a way to cultivate my budding creativity. "We owe it to ourselves to tell stories," said Neil Gaiman. I continued story telling throughout growing up, sometimes reading another wordsmith's writings to a sibling or other child, other times reading my own, or making stories up on the fly, whether about dragons, pirates, giants, the color indigo, popcorn, shoes, Australia or spacemen.

I still tell stories. This semester in creative writing I was assigned to write a twenty thousand word novella (as no doubt you're aware). Rather than stick with something I'm comfortable with, namely humor, or something I'm familiar with, fantasy, I decided to dust off an idea I kept in the shelves of my mind for about three years. So for February and a half I typed up what would become a Western ghost story. My first draft emerged as bloated and unintelligible and pointless, and those are the positive things about it. But, I wrote the tale in about six weeks, an hour a day for about 3 days a week only. Not too bad. Then came the rewrite, and it felt like it took a few more hours and many additional cursings and yelling than the original. It was definitely more difficult, not least of all because I waited until three days before the assignment's due date to begin the rewrite. I knew what I needed to do, but I had never rewritten anything, let alone never written anything of such breadth as this novella. I knew I needed to eliminate one character since he was meant to be a secondary character and exposition giver instead of the one who swoops in like a God in a machine rescuing the "heroes" not once but three times. I knew I needed to make the threat of a evil ghost/vampire/zombie man more immediate and more terrifying, as well as many minor edits to make narrative threads more connected and make more sense. But knowing you need to change something and actually changing are two different things. I can say "I want to write the greatest novella ever written" for example, but that won't write the story for me, any more than saying "I need to quit drinking" can cure alcoholism. Usually, it will just make it that much more daunting. Rewriting was a new thing to me, I've never been good at it. Before rewriting I'm always unsure of where and how to begin, how to tell if what I rewrote was an improvement or just a substitution of one problem for a new one; like putting out a fire and causing a flood. But, like telling made-up stories to believing peers in childhood, once I actually tried, it was possible. Not easy and not as fun as the stories of a two headed dragon whose fiery breath formed the crescent La Crescenta, California took its name from, but I could do it. And I did.

The new draft is about ten times better than the first draft, but it's still not anywhere near where I want it to be. It's not that interesting and the dialogue hardly "pops," if anything, it "plops." As I said before, the story is different than anything I've written. Being deeply attracted to strong opinionated women, (and married to one) I often include several such characters in my stories. But in this story there's only one female character of note, and I'm sure reviewers (if I ever get any) may think I treat her unfairly if not misogynistically, (that's not a word, but you should get what I mean). The story as I mentioned before has little if any humor, whereas a common feature in practically everything I've written is some amount of comedy, whether highbrow dry wit or lowbrow jokes concerning bodily emissions. I'm talking about farts here. It's not the darkest thing I've ever written, probably second or third, and I've never been much of a fan of the Western genre. Exceptions would be the movies Maverick and Blazing Saddles, though to be fair that's more comedy with a Western setting, isn't it?

A Western, to Austin.

So why did I write a western ghost story? I think for the same reason I made up fantastical stories for kindred Kindergartners in my youth: for the challenge. To see if I could do it. Maybe the concept my subconscious conceives is that if I can create a Western story I find interesting when I don't care at all for the genre itself, then writing about things I do care about should be easier than writing a story about sparkling vampires. Similar to running at higher elevation where the air is thinner to make running at sea level a breeze, if the hardest task can be accomplished, what can't? Whether or not writing this Western story has turned out good for me or bad for me, I can only say that the best news is I'm eager already to start writing something else. Not to distance myself from this story, but to get right back and snuggle next to my Muse and keyboard and start plucking out a new tale. Writing and rewriting this story, I haven't lost my love of writing, far from it. I have gained a greater appreciation for creating a cohesive narrative and I've gained confidence that I can at last rewrite. It only took me 29 years of storytelling to go back and correct my mistakes made in the first draft.

Now that I've accomplished the writing goal I've had for several years, that is, learn how to rewrite, I must reflect on new writing goals. Publication? Certainly a nice goal, but I think my level of proficiency will never reach quite the heights I'd like in order to have my work read professionally. I tell myself that if I aim for publication then writing and storytelling will lose much of its magic, so I avoid it for now. I have no reservation having it read or printed, but I do refrain from allowing myself to imagine I'll be a world-renowned writer ever. This is both for ego protection and realism. For my next writing journey, I'd like to write something completely different. Something silly and witty and creepy and immature and philosophical with strong female characters and no attempt to be anything more than a darn good read. But, like the goal to rewrite is different than the act of writing, the desire to write "something" witty and creative is a different animal altogether than actually writing it. However, thanks to this class I am completely up to the task and ready to rewrite my next story before I even write it or know what it will be about. Maybe about a young boy who makes up stories of dragons and monsters in his neighborhood that the other children believe and start coming true. Nah.

1 comment:

Jacob I. McMillan said...

Wow. You wrote something that wasn't humorous? I hope you mean not intentionally. Also, you should watch some Westerns. Start with Tombstone and Unforgiven, then work your way backwards if you like them.