Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Bad Fancies: a more extensive self-assessment
I tried writing stories for a while, and for a while, I felt like it was my calling: write shorts. Get published. Write a novel. Get published. Be a writer. Realize life goals. Keep "being a designer" as a back-up plan.
Then I tried that writing thing for a while, and I started getting my rejection letters, and at some point, my interest foundered. Did I just give up? Yeah, that's one way of putting it. I couldn't sustain my love for writing and storytelling long enough to convince literary magazine editors to publish any of my stories. I know, I know -- it takes enormous commitment. Kurt Vonnegut and J. K. Rowling had tons of rejections before they got an acceptance letter. Maybe I just wasn't cut out for it (sad face).
Or another way to put it: I just wasn't single-minded enough to wait for my break. While doing this writing, I started an MA in Media Studies... a corollary degree following from my design and philosophy undergrad degrees... and I ended up taking an interest in visual arts. So for a while, I got obsessed with that... filmmaking, visual essays, experimental shorts... and that's been my preoccupation for the past few years, and I stopped doing much dedicated writing of stories.
During that time, the writing I DID do was my blogging, attempting to understand and analyze popular media in order to structure my own consumption. That's been a secondary pursuit, occasionally becoming primary for a month or two, but it's also been one of my most consistent endeavors, probably because I've always intuited the danger of being a passive consumer, and the value in being an active, engaged participant in the media landscape.
But creative writing always finds its way back into my life. I started writing my own screenplays for shorts, and even some early drafts of features. The fact is, as far as process goes, each medium does something different for me. In the visual arts, I have more elements to work with, and I have more room to experiment with pure sensory input. My final products come out more vibrant, because there are so many angles to work from: the illustrative, the photographic, the narrative, the aural, the musical, the rhythmic.
Creative writing, on the other hand, is much more interior, more focused; it's a more demanding process, less playful, because there needs to be such a structure to a story, such a sense of growth and unfolding, such a play of exposition and description and expectation.
In the narrative arts, I feel like my personal experience -- my well-plotted life as an upper-middle-class liberal arts nerd from a well-adjusted suburban family -- has gotten in the way of me ever being a particularly interesting artist. All my stories are about people who come from similar white-bread majority American circumstances, and the more I read and watch, the more I feel like the VAST majority of cultural production over the last quarter of a century has come from the same place. All my territory has been explored to death. How much more can you say about the existential nature of suburbia and academia?
Even so, I'm finding myself writing again. Specifically, I'm in the middle of three screenplays (with very different structures and themes, mind you), and I've started two more traditional written works. One of them also feels like a screenplay waiting to be developed, but I'm writing it as a novel, because I have a sense that I'll write the action and the interior life of the characters more naturally that way (hey, it worked for Clive Barker with The Hell-Bound Heart and Hellraiser).
The problem is, I no longer think of myself as a writer who simply hasn't been discovered. I'm caught between written and visual arts, and between the sensory and the narrative modes. So I don't really know if I can give these two stories the commitment and attention they need to come to completion, which includes a ton of planning, a ton of revision, and a ton of day-to-day writing. Instead, I have two stories stuck in limbo between the conceptual stage and the execution stage, both not knowing what format they should ultimately inhabit.
So I've considered making this blog -- my second blog, after Benefit of the Doubt -- my holding place for such half-formed ideas that are in danger of simply disappearing from my consciousness. In this, I'm partly inspired by my friend Evan's blog, called Epileptic Fits of Blogging, where he posts very interesting stuff, and sometimes drops his fragments of creative and critical writing that might have otherwise disappeared into hard-drive purgatory.
On the plus side, this blog would allow these narratives to see the light of day, at least for a second, even if they never grow the legs to become fully developed. It would give people a chance to see them, if anybody in the whole universe turns out to be interested. On the minus side, it would just add another forum to my unmanageable list -- two Flickr accounts, one blog, one Vimeo account -- and in that way, it kind of feels like an exercise in narcissism. Another minus to this idea: of all my little vanity forums, it seems like this will actually be the LEAST interesting, because it will be full of random, disconnected artifacts, with no thread of a single story, theme, or medium to bind it together.
Part of me -- the business-minded, "self-branding" part -- would like to fight against this gradual entropy of my various creative endeavors. How does one find a "creative voice" in writing supplanted by filmmaking abetted by photography, alongside criticism, leading back to writing again? But honestly, I don't think I should bother with the business plan for now. I need to stop thinking about it and just go ahead and do whatever's calling me at that moment.
Thus, Bad Fancies comes to be: a permanent holding place for this kind of fragmentary writing, in case it becomes indispensable to my creative process. Also, I'll welcome more advice, if anyone wants to give me any. You've got my situation laid out before you. Now back to trying to make things.