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what really counts

a lot of times I think about the good old days when I used to write science fiction for an hour or so every day. I really got into it – in fact it was something that really helped to define who I was as a person. I wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages, and I liked my stories a lot; I especially liked my two main characters with whom I related quite a bit. This makes sense, of course, considering I created them and brought them through a lot of different adventures.

looking back on my stories, however, is something else entirely – the reason for this is that they weren’t very good at all. Most of my heydey of writing took place in high school before I’d really developed as an adult and as a writer. My main character, who was often referred to as a hit man, never killed anybody in his life – in grade 9 when I named him I didn’t know what a ‘hit man’ was, just that it sounded cool. A lot of the scenes are somewhat cheesy and I wasn’t very good at writing male/female interaction. I think I did some pretty cool world building, creating an entire series of galaxies in which my characters interacted, but as a whole I realize my writing was pretty bad.

which makes me realize what really mattered about my writing was not the quality of it, nor was it its saleability, but simply that I really enjoyed what I was doing and that it was a large part of my growing into an adult. A lot of the interactions that I wrote between characters mimicked things that were happening to me as a teenager. The way my characters handled honor and value were the sorts of ways I wanted to do the same when I became a grown-up. In general the books were a sort of extension of myself.

the part about this that is sad, of course, is that at some point during college I pretty much lost this part of myself and never really got it back. A big chunk of the reason for this was that I started trying to write for others rather than for myself; to sell books rather than to explore problems and situations in my life; to come up with something unique and exciting rather than to write about what I felt like writing about that day. As a result, my life feels somewhat less whole than it did before, and though I do write when I can it is no longer such a pivotal aspect of my life.

hopefully now that I have realized this important distinction I can start writing for myself. If other people want to read what I write then that is great; if it simply helps me through the day or flags a hidden aspect of my psyche that I didn’t recognize before, then that is just as great and possibly even better. I think that a lot of truly great writing starts with value in the heart of the writer, and progresses to touching others by exposing the deepest humanity of the writer and turning it into something beautiful that others can experience.

I probably didn’t write that last sentence very well. But I don’t care!

03. Jan, 2004

9 Comments

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  1. guaponose
    03. Jan, 2004 at 9:50 am #

    Reflecting back…

    Strange you should mention this, because I recently was doing a similar thing… reflecting back. I also used to write a lot more than I do now, and it is sad to see that part of me go. When I was in high school, I wrote everywhere, often during classes. I’d write poems, and songs, and this story about an axe murderer named Fred Smucklepuckle. I even wrote a comic strip for the high school paper (Jungle Bob, which was banned due to either a) being racist, or b) being anti-white… until it was explained and then allowed back for our senior year).

    And, while the axe murderer wasn’t necessarily a part of my psyche, or my development, I think the writing was. It was a way of getting ideas out, and playing with different situations, and expanding my way of thinking. Could I imagine how a girl would think? Or, how an older person would react? Could I relate to issues bigger than what a whitebread middle American high schooler would normally find himself dealing with?

    The more I wrote, the more I thought, and the two fed one another.

    Now, I wonder if I’m just complacent… or, maybe just happy? A lot of my writing was spurred by unhappiness, and inability to change a situation. Now, I find myself pretty much in control of my life, and without a lot of complaints. And, when I do complain… I wonder if I am inventing drama in my life.

    Anyway, I’m not sure where to go from here. I’d like to make a living from writing, but to do that, means writing for someone else and not necessarily for myself. To write for myself, it seems like I almost need some kind of drama to make it happen, to make it real. And so I’m at a roadblock.

    • guaponose
      03. Jan, 2004 at 10:07 am #

      Re: Reflecting back…

      And, as a quick post script… I also think the comment about high school and development is very on target. I know when I was writing in high school another thing that spurred my writing was the inability to find anyone to talk to about what was happening to me, or what was bothering me. And, I think this is something that we grow out of… I mean as we mature, we learn how to express ourselves and find people with like interests and people that we can rely on to help us through hard times. Without such people, it was very easy to work such things out in my head, or on paper.

    • admin
      07. Jan, 2004 at 7:32 am #

      Re: Reflecting back…

      maybe you can make a living from writing by starting off writing for someone else, and then taking what you’ve learned and writing for yourself. I think that would be good – it’s always good to have a job that at least helps point you in the direction you want to go personally. Know what I mean?

  2. da_zhuang
    03. Jan, 2004 at 10:43 am #

    Charles Shultz said about writing that “The reward is in the doing.”

    It’s very true. 🙂

  3. esmerel
    03. Jan, 2004 at 11:11 am #

    I did a lot of that in high school too. My sophomore year, our english teacher made us keep journals. We were supposed to write poetry, answer questions about stuff we’d read that we hadn’t had formal assignments on, write essays, whatever.

    I never wrote any of the stuff we were ‘supposed to’ – i wrote a lot of essays and poetry, sure, but it was all about stuff I felt, things I didn’t like about the world, interpretations of songs, stuff like that. Thankfully my instructor was kind enough to let me get away with it =)

  4. gconnor
    03. Jan, 2004 at 4:01 pm #

    I agree, if you can write what you enjoy writing, and some of it turns out to be saleable, that’s better than writing all marketable stuff that you don’t enjoy.

    I think that’s true of any “profession” – if you enjoy your work, you will automatically get better at it, because you get renewed and energized simply through the work itself, you will naturally practice more and take pride in it, etc. I would prefer a low-paying job I enjoy more to a high-paying one I grumble at doing.

  5. nogbogfrog
    03. Jan, 2004 at 7:23 pm #

    So what’s the literary equivalent of back pain?

  6. commerce_comet
    05. Jan, 2004 at 5:50 am #

    I never wrote much growing up. I would draw diagrams of mechanical things (though I drew horses and other non-industrial stuff too) and maybe thats why I became an engineer. I just started my journal a few days ago and I can use that (being an engineer) as an excuse for crappy output.

    As for the choice between writing for others rather than for yourself, I think it could largely be about perception. One can mold the topic that writing for saleability requires into something that is more appealing to oneself by looking at it in a different light. It might not become something intimately meaningful to you, but it could become enjoyable. Or one can concentrate on aspects of the act of writing that they enjoy and take satisfaction from those things.

    Also, it would seem that there is a whole lot of diversity in the types of things that sell. Now picking one of these things that has an allure for you might not result in a national best-seller but it could provide a decent experience and possibly a modest sale as well.

    Lastly, its cool that you want to start writing (for yourself) again and I hope you get satisfaction out of it.

  7. linkdeath
    05. Jan, 2004 at 1:31 pm #

    I wrote a lot as well when I was younger. Mainly about this guy Tarin and his alien friend, Zagrot who looked a bit phallic with tentacles. Japanimation would have had fun with him…ahem. Anyway, I used to do a ton of writing, mostly science fiction as well. It’s probably all buried in various half-filled boxes in my parents’ basement now, but it was definitely just another way of me exploring my world. I was taking this world and growing upon it.

    But I’ve realized as I’ve grown older that it was the core of what I truly love, which is telling stories. I’ve recently gone back to doing just that in what ways I can, since my professional life has lead me far way from that ideal. Live and learn. I completely agree with Anne Rice whose character Lestat (I think) said that the older we get, the more us we become. We don’t change, we just boil down to our essences.

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