I have a simple question for you: What is the best thing you’ve written?
I’ve been asked this before, but I always find myself unable to respond. Was it the short story I won an award for in college? Was it the first time I ever got paid? Was it the unfinished, self-indulgent fantasy novel I let my friends read in pieces on the bus ride home? Was it the children’s story I made out of construction paper for my mom when I was just a kid? Was it that even more macabre retelling of the Cinderella story? Was it a random personal journal entry that I wrote in a fit of angst late one night and never let anyone else see?
I’m never sure, and it doesn’t help that I’m always changing. It doesn’t help that I’m always reading and writing, and most of all: going back and revising. The books I like are always changing and the way I write is always changing. My creative writing teacher in high school called me a Romantic (not lower case, not the same thing! she says), a creative writing professor in college thought I was reading too much Virginia Woolf, another professor appreciated my newly discovered minimalism. I’m like a literary chameleon, and I’m always confused how anyone can find something they call a “voice.” I seem to be unable to settle into a style or a genre. I can’t get comfortable or cozy with what I’m working with. I want to write essays, journal entries, poetry, short stories, children’s books, adult fiction novels; I want to play around and laugh, but sometimes I want to unsettle and creep around; I like to dance around in tangents and I like to cut it straight down the middle. I never feel cohesive because each new opened document sits by itself and doesn’t want to have anything to do with the others. My issue has never really been the actual writing process, but just figuring out where to get started with all the sorting and rearranging I have to do.
Am I just a curious wanderer or am I really completely lost?
Maybe this question isn’t so simple if you write a lot, but I’ll still leave it out there. Or let’s rephrase it like this: Is there any particular piece that keeps coming back to you?
AFebruary 17, 2012 at 2:33 am
Nothing in particular is my favorite and I don't often come back to anything. I don't think as an artist one should ever 'play favorites' with their creations or get too caught up on what they have created in the past, but focus on what they WILL create in the future.
But, I suppose my favorite story I have told and enjoyed telling is 'Strings' because it was effortless and seemed to flow out of me. I still think of it often, it has never really left me. Poor David, how I still love him so. (Is it strange to love your characters is the real question!)
But, no. Honestly Joseph, you're interesting because you're not totally monotonous. I have slightly fallen out of love with Joyce Carol Oates because all of her characters are essentially the same person. Yes, I love her style and voice, but sometimes I feel enough is a enough.
Lately I have felt about art in general that I have to live – and read more books and watch more films and go for more walks – in order to become a better writer. It isn't solely about writing all of the time, as that old advice says. It is about learning from the greats and dabbling in everything.
You have to absorb influences like every great writer in the past and then you can put down something really great. And if you're a great writer you can morph your voice to fit the occasion or material and not get totally stuck in one style.
Hey write everything you want to write, that is what I say!
This was interesting and thought provoking, as always. You're my favorite, there I said it.
J.D.February 18, 2012 at 2:09 am
I really like this attitude, and I completely agree. It's probably more productive to think this way anyway.
I remember "Strings." I picked your book up again and recalled it pretty clearly – it was one of my favorites too. I really love when stories seem to just flow so easily like that, and maybe there is something to be said about that sudden unconscious outpouring and whether those things remain closest to us personally. I wish it happened more often, regardless!
I haven't read enough Joyce Carol Oates to know that…plus, she's written so much! I'm glad you don't see me as totally predictable though…in fact, I think one of the things that frustrates me with other writers is how some of them can be so monomaniacal. Not necessarily with voice or style, but just with their topics and themes. It would drive me crazy if I had to keep writing the same sort of story over and over again. So maybe I should stop being so insecure about whether I have a "voice" or not because at least I'm not like that. I hope. Maybe I should instead look at it as something closer to versatility and range.
Lately, I've been feeling the same way. I've been trying to get outside my head more and getting life done, as it is.
I enjoy your thoughts too, Angela! I really do. I'm so glad you chose to stick around in some form, even after disappearing for a bit.