Earlier this morning, I was asleep on a plane with a copy of Anna Karenina abandoned on my knee, when I was jolted awake by an adapter plug, which hit me in the face. I looked up to see a young man hovering over me. He looked mortified.
He had been searching for something in his case in the luggage carrier over my head and seemed startled to have launched a missile.
“I’m so sorry!” he said, grabbing the offending converter.
“Don’t worry!” I said, compensating for my drowsiness by employing an inappropriately bright tone.
He then had the unenviable obligation to continue looking for whatever he needed while leaning over me.
It was a laptop. He took it to his seat, which was diagonally across from me, and opened up a Word file containing many pages of text. The font was too small for me to make out. He must have sensed my dismay because just as I was craning my neck to make the title out, he turned to me and apologised again.
“Not a problem!” I said, waving my hand as if flicking away some trifling annoyance, like a fly or an undeserved compliment.
I thought that if this were the beginning of a story, our paths might cross again in an awkward collision on the way to the tiny plane toilet or while looking for lost baggage.
Inspired by the few pages of Anna Karenina I had managed to read, I began to weave a narrative in the style of a nineteenth century Russian novel. But soon enough, the prose became less imaginative, and the young man who had fired the plug morphed into LSB, and his glamorous but troubled victim, a peasant girl masquerading as a wealthy actress, became me again.
This is the problem, you see.
Reality claws its way into my writing. The effect is similar to the sense of confinement suffered when entrapped by an uncomfortably tight scarf.
Fiction is of course, suitably, the dream. Everyone wants to write a novel. And blogger types like me really want to. Sure you’d be mad not to. What could be more satisfying than cementing your immortality in pretty prose?
But the cruel tug of real life gets in the way of my dreams. Every time I sit down to write a story about things that are not true, things that are creep in.
When I actually managed to complete a short story recently, I sent it to my father to read. I thought I had struck a happy medium. Much of the story was true, but the interesting, pivotal bit was not. He liked it all but for the bit I had fabricated, which he found, *sigh* unconvincing.
He tried to comfort me by reminding me of the virtues of lesser writing, like travel memoirs and historical essays.
“Nonsense”, I said. Non-fiction is the refuge of the unimaginative. “Like me”, I added sadly.
It’s not as if I can’t make things up. In fact, LSB frequently accuses me of shameless fabrication. I’m able to imagine stories of boys with magical powers, dystopian universes and tales of dwellings made entirely of marzipan and inhabited by colonies of chocolate worms.
I just don’t seem to be able to write about them. Any time I go to write about something that was not, it occurs to me that I am infinitely more qualified to describe something that in fact, was. And so I write about the giant dog I accosted on the train, or the time LSB rolled down the hill.
Everything I have written above is the *sigh* true tale of a non-fiction writer in denial. But perhaps dreams can come true. I know many of you casual readers out there are talented weavers of convincing deceit. I’m left with little choice but to appeal to you, to teach me your art. In other words, help me before I am irretrievably lost to the Real.
Yours helplessly grounded,
Well, they do say “write what you know”. But I can empathise with your frustration. We’re all struggling to find exactly the right combination of words that will turn our fiction into publications and set our dreams alight. I can only say keep writing and one day things will click for you!
And I say all this like I know it all!
They do say that alright but maybe I take it too literally 🙂 I’ll struggle on! Have just seen that you’re making lots of headway and have a new project. That’s fantastic! Best of luck with the search for an agent. Ever considered publishing it yourself? Difficult but some reassuring success stories..
Schopenhauer, whilst not one to consult when your spirits are flagging, offers some advice which gives pause for thought:
“Again, it may be said that there are three kinds of authors. First come those who write without thinking. They write from a full memory, from reminiscences; it may be, even straight out of other people’s books. This class is the most numerous. Then come those who do their thinking whilst they are writing, — they think in order to write; and there is no lack of them. Last of all come those authors who think before they begin to write: they are rare.
Authors of the second class, who put off their thinking until they come to write, are like a sportsman who goes forth at random and is not likely to bring very much home. On the other hand, when an author of the third or rare class writes, it is like a battue. Here the game has been previously captured and shut up within a very small space; from which it is afterwards let out, so many at a time, into another space, also confined. The game cannot possibly escape the sportsman; he has nothing to do but aim and fire, — in other words, write down his thoughts. This is a kind of sport from which a man has something to show.”
On the other hand, I prefer the attitude of Bertrand Russell, who thinks that to reach true greatness, we must take the attitude of increased indolence (and I can’t say I disagree :-)):
I was thinking about what Schopenhauer said and what I might learn from it when I began to read Bertrand Russell, which was a true pleasure. After that I took the view of my father, which is that “nothing much matters, and nothing matters much.”
Thank you so much for taking the time to leave such a thought-provoking comment. I think I am quite a natural when it comes to indolence.. and that gives me great reassurance.
Meanwhile, this fiction writer wishes she could present true happenings as interesting stories, as you do. Go figure. X)
Aw, we’re all the same deep down, aren’t we? Hope writing is flowing for you at the moment 🙂
I hope you are not suffering from post traumatic “facial missile shock”! If not, this is your chance for real fiction. Make it all up! Can’t wait to read it all!
Hehe, expect a full medical report in the coming days 🙂
I really feel your pain, because for me fiction can be so difficult to write and make believable. Though, the interesting thing about some of my nonfiction stories is I was told to fabricate within the story to add more elements, which of course, wouldn’t make it nonfiction anymore. I say keep on doig what you are doing because I love your writing!
Hey Sarah, thanks for popping by! It’s reassuring to know that other people go through the same. Actually some of my favourite writers have based their stories very heavily on their own experiences, but the difficulty as you say is to make it all believable. I’d love to read some of your stories if you ever feel like posting them! Hope things are going well for you 🙂
Yeah, I can’t write fiction to save my life. I’ve never been able to and I never will be able to. Hence my writing being mostly about the world and my life… it’s what I know so it’s what I’m going to stick with. Everything sounds much better in my mind than on paper when I try to be more creative than usual. LOL
I do know one thing though…. I bought Anna Karenina and was so dissatisfied with the ending I considered lobbing it across my house in a show of extreme frustration and rage. Being that it weighs as much as a small child, I decided not to. But alas, I glare at my copy frequently.
Hehe, well your writing is very compelling so stay with the truth.. It has me hooked 🙂
As for Anna Karenina, it’s very early days yet. We haven’t even met. It’s been all about Count Oblonsky and his misdemeanours! But I’ll be sure to let you know if I feel like hurling my copy at an innocent in my vicinity!
I loved the story-line centered on Levin. As for the rest, I’m afraid I’ll rant and give something away, so I shan’t say more than that. LOL
Thanks for the fantastic comments! 🙂
You seem to have a knack for making (relatively) everyday events interesting, which is the complete opposite to me. My life as a college student is normal, boring, and not particularly worth talking about, which is why I love to write fiction as a means of compensating. Yet this difference doesn’t mean much at the end of the day, except that I’m probably more suited to fantastical tales, and you’re more grounded in real life.
Have you ever thought of pitching that short story at somebody who’s not your father? Perhaps he found it unconvincing because he knows you too well. But if there is a problem with it, chances are it’s to do with parameters. To write fiction you need to have the ability to both write as if blind to what’s going to happen, and yet set unconscious boundaries that prevent you from going off on a wild tangent. So when you’re blending fact with fiction, you might try and ask “what might have happened if X equally plausible event happened instead?” or “How might person A behave instead if such-and-such plausible event took place in the past”?, and then stick to that train of thought throughout.
It’s funny you say that you think your life as a college student is boring. I felt the same way and only started blogging after I graduated. I think there’s something about a routine and being around people who are all in a similar life stage that makes you think that your experience is rather inconsequential. The moment you’re out of university though you think about how interesting it was. I for one would like to read a college-centred blog!
I think what you say about playing with and speculating on fact to create fiction is interesting. Is that something you force yourself to do or does it come naturally?
Think I’m going to have to “work hard” to let go of the self-doubt which stops me writing fiction! 🙂
Hmm, I’m still too young and inexperienced to create a coherent narrative of my own life, so I have never actually tried to write anything consciously inspired by my experiences. I can’t give you that much advice I’m afraid! But if it was me, I’d start with something easy enough where there aren’t too many threads to resow. For example, is there any time in your life where you or someone you know really dodged a bullet?
For example when I was in school, I had a bitter rivalry with another pupil. We were put on voluntary work together in TY, and without teachers to keep a close watch, his behaviour escalated from irritating to downright abusive. We almost came to blows over lunch, and I remember being about to reshape his face with my fist, when our supervisor walked in. Had I not delayed by a second, I (despite having a pristine record) could have been expelled from school for assaulting a fellow pupil and dragging its name into disrepute. If that had happened, who knows where I’d be at now?
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Maybe at this point in life, you are more suited to be a non-fiction writer? Or perhaps you could integrate the two in some way? Not sure how feasible it is though.
Only thing I am certain, you have a natural knack and flair of expressing your thoughts in a humorous way. I remember someone telling me before, it’s easier to be sad than to be happy. But I feel your natural humour when I read your entries – using your eyes to see in a different light and it relaxes me, makes me more optimistic about life. So no matter which route you eventually choose( or both), I am sure your readers would love to view your thoughts/ideas from your eyes.
So I would like to take the chance to thank you again – thanks very much for finding me two years ago. I have been greatly encouraged by your work and encouragement all this time. And it has been a real pleasure to read your entries. Keep it up! :))
I think you’re right Clariice! Maybe I should simply embrace what comes most naturally to me. I am so happy that reading the posts puts you in good humour! That’s really the best thing you could say. Putting a smile on someone’s face makes it worth all the work and occasional sense of futility that comes with blogging!
I want to thank you sincerely too, for your support and for your lovely entries, which are always so beautifully put and heartfelt. Yours was the very first blog I found when I set my own up and I was immediately intrigued because of the German title! I hope 2013 has wonderful things in store for you and that you too keep up your wonderful and inspiring work which is always a pleasure to read 🙂
I involuntarily de-registered form all my wordpress notifications. I even stopped getting notifications from my own, which I now rarely remember! I’m sorry I’ve missed so much of your writing but I’m glad you’re still going!!! Last time I was over here I think you were in Vienna! You won an Irish Blogging award?? Which country are you in?
That’s rather sad about those mussels with the less convincing fish parts, its rather sinister when someone says the words ‘their genes will go no further…’
Happy New Year!!! xxx Dave, Manchesters Artistic Son
Dave, it’s so good to hear from you! I was only thinking about you the other day and missing your posts. How are you doing? Are you writing stories still l and saving snails (or are they out of season?) Oh, no I was a just a finalist for an award but they gave us these lovely little badges to put on our sites. I am in Berlin again, freelancing around the place, mostly working as a translator. I was going to send you some stuff as I am trying to master fiction (since that post I actually did write a story) and thought you’d be the person for feedback but I may still find them too mortifying to send your way. I hope 2013 has wonderful things in store for you 🙂 Keep in touch x
I’m hoping to be savagely killed in a huge catastrophe and become a posthumous hero, or to win the lottery. That’s my plan for 2013. 2012 got a bit boring, need some excitement. No snails to save right now, it’s -5 degrees, I think they migrate to Portugal in the winter, I would if I was them. Finalist is pretty good! I’m writing my dissertation fiction, bit long and tortuous, send me some stuff!!!!!!!!!! can you see my email address attached to this? you probably have it anyway, either of them. My dissertation is based in Ireland (well our Ireland not your Ireland) ha ha, most politically debatable sentence ever! You can read mine if I read yours, or something, if that helps.
Sorry for the late comment…I’ve been away from blogland for a while so just catching up.
Stephen King wrote a book ‘On Writing’ that you might find helpful. I’m far too lazy to write so I haven’t followed a single scrap of his advice and therefore can’t tell you if what he says actually works for someone who isn’t Stephen King.
You say that ‘Non-fiction is the refuge of the unimaginative’ but I have to disagree! As I get older I find non-fiction writing more fascinating and I now rarely read fiction. A good friend of mine also has the same experience and he’s the sort of person who always had a novel in his pocket.
One great non-fiction writer I love is William Dalrymple but recently he has written some fiction. Also a guy called Jason Webster. His first book Duende was an autobiographical account about his journey to learn flamenco guitar in Spain but it reads like a novel! He had a few more non-fiction books and now writes crime novels which I haven’t checked out yet but getting good reviews.
So perhaps the route is to keep practicing your craft in a non-fiction manner and that experience will set you up for fiction when you’re ready?
Fiachra makes a good suggestion….show your short story to non-family and preferably someone who doesn’t know you.
Oh dear…did I really write the words “I have to disagree”? I sound so rude. At least there was an exclamation mark….!
Not at all rude!!! <— note the exclamation marks to reinforce the point 🙂
Thanks for these thoughts! You know, you’re right. I really love to read non-fiction too and there’s definitely a creative skill in how you put experiences and even facts together. I really must read ‘On Writing’! It’s recommended so much. I have to confess I haven’t even heard of William Dalrymple. You’ve made me curious!
And you’re right. I think the key thing is to keep writing. Blogging can become dispiriting as it takes rather a lot of time and it’s not always easy to think if things to write about or to maintain a consistent voice. But it really is the best practice you can get, especially if lovely people like you go to the trouble of leaving their feedback and thought!
I’ll let you know if I get to either King or Dalrymple and we’ll compare notes 🙂
Hope you have a lovely weekend 🙂
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