The Truth About the Writing Life

laptopI loved reading Jeffrey Siger’s entry about having fun with writing. This is a philosophy that everyone should apply to the best of her ability to every aspect of life. Bad things happen that must be dealt with, so you might as well enjoy yourself when you can.

The ninth book in my Alafair Tucker series, The Return of the Raven Mocker, is due to be on the shelves in January 2017. I’m currently in the midst of correcting the Advance Reading Copy (ARC), formerly known as the galley proofs. The ironic thing is that I’m also working on the next book at the same time, and my head is so full of Book Ten (as it is formally called right now) that Raven Mocker already seems like something I wrote far in the past.

All my ideas for novels just delight me to no end, but it’s the daily drudge at the word processor that gets the job done.

It takes a lot of discipline to write, or at least to get anything finished. Like a lot of writers, I often wonder if I’ve really got enough of it, and if I’m ever going to finish anything again. When I do actually sit down and write, it’s usually quite a pleasant experience, especially if I don’t worry about what other people will think about the work. I believe that’s where a certain amount of courage is required. Do I really want to say this? Do I want to bare my soul like this -what will you think of me, Dear Reader? Will you find me sappy and unsophisticated if I write this scene like this? Will you find me cruel? Will you think I’m writing about a real person and thus dislike him or her? Will you think I’m writing about you, and thus dislike me for saying such revealing things about you?

In the Alafair Tucker series, I’m writing about a family that lived in Oklahoma in the early 20th Century. I’ve concentrated on some of the lovely family aspects of their lives, but I want to be as real as possible. All cannot be sweetness and light, after all. The Return of the Raven Mocker deals with the influenza epidemic of 1918, which was horrific. But then I don’t want to write a social treatise, either. It’s a fiction, after all.

The first thing a writer is taught is to “write what you know.” However cliche it seems, I think this is not as straightforward a phrase as it first appears. After all, if you’re a sci-fi writer, you’d be severely handicapped when describing the planet Koozbain if you interpret the tenet literally. I feel like “write what you know’ has to do with telling the truth about being human as you know it. If the writer tries her best to be authentic, she’s going to come up with something that is absolutely unique, because every human being is unique. I can tell you from experience, Dear Reader, that this is a very hard thing to do. It’s nigh on to impossible not to want to imitate the style of a writer you admire, or to tone down what you want to say because it might offend.

The business of writing is schizophrenic, to say the least. You want to be published, you want to be read. You want to be liked. And yet, you want to – dare I say it? – create art. And the only way to do that, I sometimes fear, is to dig as deep as you can for your own truth. These days, if your truth is a certain kind of ugly, that’s often admired by the literati and disliked by the reading public. If your truth is sweet and hopeful, you stand in danger of being disdained by the literati, yet loved by readers. My truth has a little of both sweet and ugly. My fear is that if I tell it, I’ll be disdained by the literati AND disliked by readers. How’s that for writerly neuroses?

What can you do? Go for it and damn the torpedoes.