Powerlessness and the Fiction Writer
My Writing buddy just sent me this email.
Well, I just finished my nth draft, I don't know if it’s any good, but I do know I put in crazy hours, and I got to thinking about your last blog, the one about the later stages of revision—I had this epiphany about fiction writing that I've got to share. It was sort of a "four-pronged" flash about how the fiction writer is beset by complete and total powerlessness from every angle.
First, you can't set irrevocable goals when writing fiction because the process of creation has a timeline of its own. You might want the scene or chapter to be perfect by Tuesday, but the scene has a will much stronger than yours. It’s gonna be finished on a Tuesday, just not this Tuesday. Maybe a Tuesday next March.
Second, no fiction writer can honestly appraise their own work—however good, great, or bloody awful it may be. No matter how remote you think your material is, you just don’t have psychic distance. All you can ever do are "ballpark diagnostics"—does somebody want something, is there conflict, and so forth. It’s not like Olympic hurdle-jumping where you actually know if you knocked over the hurdle.
Third, you can have high and low fantasies about receptivity—dread of rejection, yearnings for wild praise—but you cannot predict or control what anybody will think of your fiction writing. In fact, you can't even predict if they'll actually read it, let alone read it with care. (Side Note: “They” have reasons of their own for liking and disliking. “They” may not be the right reader for you. “They” may be a nitwit. Then again, “they” may be absolutely right about you and your stinkin’ draft.)
Fourth, each work of fiction is its own wrestling match. There's no "path to sustainability" because each tale has a kind of do or die element to it, every draft demands its own special care. That’s why some write three terrible books, then one great one, then five more lame ones, then an awesome one. Every sunrise brings a new battle in a never-ending war.
We who attend to this mishugenah practice are really playing a very difficult game. Other games people play—poker, real estate, country ‘n’ western line dancing—are way easier, I promise. But at the end of the day we do this because we have to, we’re wired for it, and the real rewards are spiritual in nature. I’m not just talking about the discoveries you make about yourself and the world while dreaming up stories. I’m talking about this very state of powerlessness that writing fiction induces. It’s a mystical twist—accepting the powerlessness is the most empowering thing there is.