I’m stumped. I just… I have been taking a long, hard look at writing fiction again, and it seems to have become this impossible world to navigate. Yes, I am aware there are harder things people have to deal with in the world, but I am trying to earn money from writing (eventually), so I need to figure out how to do this. Also, I just want to be able to produce some text – any text! – for today that isn’t another shit attempt at creating a narrative.
Firstly, there’s the problem of what I want to write. I have become quite fascinated by the era of the beat poets -mainly Burroughs, as my friend and mentor Gareth seems to be following in his footsteps. So, of course, I really want to write something as challenging as that. I guess what I am doing now: writing about wanting to write is a new level of procrastination.
Then, there’s loads of writing competitions that are looking for contemporary fiction that talks about deep issues of modern-day life, like poverty, joblessness, etc. I tried my hand at that for about five minutes, and then immediately deleted it; while some might argue anything goes in fiction, it just didn’t feel right. I can’t lament the ‘terrible life’ I have had, because it’s been quite a sheltered, comfortable existence. I could spend years researching and interviewing people who have been through terrible things, simply to publish their stories, but then, they should be allowed to tell their own story… It can be quite unsettling to think of writing about people and their lives as theft, and it’s quite discouraging. In fiction, though, I guess you can embellish things with imagination or alter details, but if you base characters on people you know, isn’t that still a kind of robbery?
On the other hand, I love history, and the Medieval/Renaissance period. But I’ve written about it before, and I have no idea what aspect of it to tackle. Part of me (the brutal, violent part of me) is fascinated by the weaponry, and the tales of knights. And then, my brain kicks in, and says that it’s not appropriate, or that it has no point.
I have been struggling with the idea of giving a “point” or “purpose” to writing, especially since I used to write as a hobby. I guess seeing things from the point of view of a theatre critic, it is quite obvious that people often feel the need to attach a meaning or message to something they see or experience – even if the person who has made it hasn’t. Perhaps it’s our way of justifying our time, but why does it have to have a purpose? Some of the more interesting work tends to arise from devised theatre companies, that basically lock themselves in a studio for a week and play around with form, ideas, themes, and then present this to an audience. While this could result in an unfocused, boring work that is a glorified jam session, it can also produce quite exciting things (as in the case of Rough Mix by Magnetic North). So why don’t/can’t we do this with writing? How come performers and visual artists can get away with wasting time, money and space on collage, cut up, and ‘experimentation’ on a grand scale, but writers – aside from maybe bloggers or zine-makers – are still expected to follow the same rules (grammar, structure, discipline in writing) they have for the past few centuries?
Perhaps it all comes down to wanting to be read. If you want to be read widely, you have to be readable, and follow the mainstream system of coding thoughts and such in language. The theatre equivalent of this would be scripted theatre with a clear narrative and structure; this tends to have certain actions or imagery that act as signifiers (thanks Gareth!) for specific things. While it can be incredibly entertaining or moving, what’s the point of giving an audience exactly what they want?