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The Drudgery of Writing

April 20, 2011

I can’t claim to have read much about writing and how to do it, but from what I’ve seen it boils down to

  1. Reading a lot
  2. Writing a lot

which makes me disheartened in all sorts of ways. I’m extremely bad at sitting down to “just write” and I never considered myself to be a very avid reader. I used to be better at it but nowadays I tend to zone out at least once a page so I have to go back a few paragraphs.

Perhaps my attention span has been obliterated by interwebz and the constant stress of the McJob I used to have, but books are just so incredibly boring. The authors just jammer on and on and that’s fine I guess, but they also repeat themselves, which makes me wonder if they’re paid by the word. Maybe they are. There seems to be a perverse fixation on word count in the publishing world.

Another major handicap is my complete inability to analyze fiction. If someone gives me the themes and subtexts of a work, I have no problems understanding it or to recognise them. But finding them? Hell no. What I see is what I see, what I read is what I read.

It’s surely fixable with even more training.

How about writing about themes? Could I do that with a broken themedar? Most likely. But since my current ideas are mostly in the sci-fi ghetto part of town, I feel a bit lost when people laud works for the “conflicts” and their “characters”. Writing characters is not someting I will ever be able to do.

The more I read about writing and literature, the more lost I feel. It’s like everyone else is following a secret codebook I’ve never seen. And the more “hardcore” the reader, the less fun they seem to have. It’s always finding patterns and themes and intentions and allusions.

I think I’m far too shallow when it comes to cultural consumption. When I read, I want the author to have a language of their own. A lot of authors – at least in genre fiction – have something of a standard voice, a non-distinct way of writing. Sentences are correct and so on, but they’re never exciting. They’re mere vehicles for the plot or the idea.

It’s the same problem I have with people treating and reviewing films as if they are recorded plays. They deny the value and the possibilities of the format. I think that if you are writing fiction you should treat every sentence like it’s important. Make it unique or at least give it meaning.

(My favourite thing to hate is when there’s dialogue between two people and they still feel they have to point out who said what. They’re alternating for fuck’s sake!)

It might be that I myself am unable to come up with plots. I mean, what little I’ve written in the past has little in the way of plot, so I’ve tended to disguise it behind words.

So perhaps I can disguise my short-comings and write something anyway.

But then I read about how authors have to deal with book readings and signing tours and fucking brand management! Fuck that shit. That’s just turning writing into another horrible profession where you have to act like you want to be around other people. A great part of the appeal of writing is that it’s something you can do on your own, in private, in seclusion. Something you can do without cumbersome materials and equipment.

And book readings. Why do they even exist? If I ever get to write, I will write to be read, not to be heard. I just don’t get it.

The concept of drafts is another terrifying thing. If I understood it correctly, you’re meant to write several iterations of a story. But how do you change things locally without having to change things globally? How do you change a sentence without having to change the following as well? How do you extract every thin strand of effect a sentence has without major restructuring of everything else? Or are you supposed to write everything as if it’s standing alone? Then why even put it in a context?

Seems I’ve been naive about this writing business.


From → General

  1. I agree with the fact that it seems a lot of authors try to stick to a certain form per se. And since you mentioned that this is a reason reading books turns you off then I suggest trying to read House of Leaves. That book is way out of the bounds of literary form. Give it a try.

    • Hm. It depends on what one means by “form” I guess. I think of the sentence as a form for the thought or the idea, and there I want something fresh and new. But the form the sentence itself is put into (layout/typography etc.) I prefer to be simple and conservative.

      Ramble aside, thanks for the tip; I shall look into it.

  2. hails permalink

    I just don’t get how you can be so stressed out by this in a world when fanfic-level writing sells millions of copies:

    • It’s not the “level” of the writing that concerns me, it’s the “actuallly writing anything” part. That authors I don’t particularily care for gain an audience and money is neither news nor relevant to my problems. If I can’t plan/structure and write a novel, it doesn’t matter how good or bad I am; the book still doesn’t come into existence.

  3. hails permalink

    I imagine that much of the planning and structuring will be done by the editor/publisher or whatever. Sort of like how you send them a few chapters so they get the premise and then give you directions, like “make this character more this and this”, “change this sentence to be less like that and more like this” or “this would be better in chapter one than two” or “split this chapter up in two chapters” and so on. All the planning you made beforehand goes out the window as you have to accommodate for these changes. He/she can also give you directions as to what font to use, page structure, word count… I’m pretty sure I read this whole process somewhere.

    • If the editor really does that much, then why even have an author? I thought they just gave hints and such, not the overall structure of the plot.

      • Anonymous permalink

        Remember that his goal is to get you published and make as much money out of your book as posible. They have to establish target audiences and adjust the content appropriately. It’s all a big money race. I didn’t think you’d be this naive.

  4. hails permalink

    Whoops, pressed “Post” by accident. Anyhow, jumbled, unordered writing can also be considered a different, original style. Not everything has to be perfectly ordered and explained.

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