Friday, 22 March 2013

Bitch Stole My Idea

A while back, I was watching an interview conducted by the eminent Christiane Amanpour, with the makers of a film that had been nominated for an Oscar. I can’t remember if it was nominated in the foreign film or short film category – assuming those are both actual categories. I can’t be bothered checking, especially since I’m not going to be detailing the names of the filmmakers, the title of their work, or the plotline of their film (which, now I think with more doubt about it, might have been a documentary – my stupid memory) which was discussed in depth in the interview and turned out to resemble an idea I’ve had on the go for months now.
Christiane Amanpour has a pleasantly modulated tone and interesting accent, and normally I watch her programme on CNN without the slightest distraction because her voice gently heralds the content so engagingly. But on this occasion I wasn’t to be consoled. I wasn’t to be re-hooked into the programme by that beautiful voice. I was sent spinning by this interview with the man who created a whole Oscar-nominated film using my idea.
Yep, at least until the credits rolled, I was lost to the world, trying to grapple with the injustice of not being able to use my idea anymore – that someone older and therefore more apt to get this idea out there before me, bah, had done so – that I would look like a huge fat copycat if I went on with the idea with the excuse that in transcribing it in my own medium, it’s not really the ‘same thing.’
But really, after all, before the film could come about, this man’s idea had to exist in words. It would have existed in script form. Which obviously is different to the novel or short story form (the latter of which being the medium I planned to use for this idea for all the several months since it’s occurred to me).
But that difference doesn’t necessarily outweigh the similarities the forms bear. Words, essentially, are what you read, what take you directly on a process and a set of tangents that work together to lead somewhere coherent but also chaotic and consuming when done right. So before the film existed, the idea must have worked in words. Someone else's words. 
So someone had the same idea as me – only several years earlier, or perhaps decades before me – and they wrote the thing out better than I could have. Well enough that it got the green-light to enter Film-Land. But this fact ought not to matter as much as whether or not to keep the idea in mind, I think. For I am not a scriptwriter. I don’t foresee a potential career in filmmaking for myself. I daren’t even dream of my work ever being ‘cinematic’ enough that anyone would consider adapting it. Let me get something published first, yeesh. This would only truly matter if I'd been planning on making a film around this Idea, wouldn't it? I think that's the case. Because I want to use a different medium the idea isn't ruined, probably; isn't unusable, hopefully.
Anyhow, being a storyteller means I exist in the same world as these people who had the good idea, the same good idea, as me, just got to it first, completed it first. Frustrating as it is – and yeah, I’m not serious when I say bitch stole my idea, that’s just admitting to what the silly ego thinks when one first encounters one’s good idea developed and pruned to fruition by some other artist – once the credits stopped rolling, jolting me back to reality, kind of, I realised that I’d actually had an idea that someone else had made work. I’d never come across one of my older ideas in another’s work, work that becomes internationally known and successful and lauded.
(Maybe others have heaps upon heaps of ideas all the time and experience plenty of their ideas being used well in other people’s books, films, paintings, TV shows, so on. Not me.)
Not to say the ideas that don’t coincide in an obvious way with a successful person’s ideas aren’t worth anything. Just that now I know – there’s elements to this idea I’ve had that people do like, that I could work with to make my story light up. It feels as if my mind was in the right place when it churned up the idea.
It lets me know my other ideas of the same sort of depth or weight or theme are workable. If in the right hands – so I have to improve myself (to make my hands the right hands) and my idea, develop it to make it my own, so I’m not copying, and face it, when you discover someone's used the same idea you had, but in a different manner, it'd be too easy to filch ideas, and while that's not necessarily a no-no, it still sullies what you could have created with your own pure analysis and tangents, which could turn out to be a piece of work just as great, or creative - generally as worth consideration and admiration.
I am superstitious about nothing but my writing, which is why I don’t want to detail the idea or the film that struck me and made me mad for an unsettling fifteen minutes; I do believe I’d jinx my own process by sharing anything about what should be private, in my mind, until it’s ready for editing and shaping by way of external feedback. I will say that this idea is going to stay on my list of ideas to use when my current ideas are Done With - and  
I’m going to use it anyway.
If I liked it enough to let it ferment on my list, I might as well keep on considering it and use it as planned. Anyway, I doubt the end product will much resemble an elegant and noirish foreign or short film that was nominated for an Oscar – it’ll just be another one of my stories.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Opining: A Purposefully Limited View on Chick Lit

Surprising how expansive my limited view can be, in terms of word count (this post exceeds 1,500).
In this era, a book all about the trials and tribulations of single women trying to get married off as soon as possible would, most likely be classified as ‘chick lit.’ Chick lit is a term that I find both weird and funny, because say it fast and it sounds like the official term for the cooked version of a chick – don’t ask me why, that’s what comes to mind. But it is quite accurate in that it refers to all that concerns a woman, a ‘chick.’
My dictionary defines chick lit as:
a genre of fiction targeted to, and written by or about, young and sophisticated urban women (slang)
Why is my perception that chick lit is all about getting married off (and the often wild and saucy and unbelievably scandalous speed bumps a feisty Chick will encounter on her way to that highest altar)? I guess it can’t be all about that, really, because rare are the novels today which are only about a woman seeking a partner in life.

(Mills & Boon books aren't counted here; they're straight-up romance, whereas chick-lit is all about shucking off the pink cover and donning sharp edges that'll give you a paper-cut as hurtful as that from any other fresh new novel.)

The Chick usually has lots of stuff going on. Today’s woman naturally has so much more going on than one, say, from the 'Austenite era,' at least, the kind of ‘stuff’ that gets put into a book meant to amuse, engage, whatever else. And the books in which these lives feature are always covered with a cutesy cartoon depiction of women with the legs we wish we could have but humanly never will, so there's that to speak for how much of the focus is off men/love and perhaps more on the self, or the self the characters in the book want to be - not a bad thing, I guess. I'm probably reading too much into the cutesy cover pictures.
I would wager that the main deal for women of the past, Marriage, has been replaced with a plain Good Man to spend some quality time with and whom the reader knows will eventually marry the protagonist because such books always end that way, with that light-hearted wink of a happy ending hinting that things are going to be Happily Ever After. Bridget Jones’ Diary is the classic modern example. Pride and Prejudice is the supreme backdrop to it and others in the same mould, the mighty river from which all chick lit has trickled out of in their bubbly, transparent but somehow still dirty streamlets - i.e. today’s chick lit novels.
Another modern example that I like is Louise Bagshawe’s Venus Envy, where the objective is to slap down bitchy women in the office, climb social and business ladders, all while looking fabulous, dominating in high heels, dropping fashion house names printed across the labels of your clothes, and so on, because misguidedly you think that such qualities will attract the Right Man, only who you think is the Right Man at first turns out to be complete utter Sleazy Wrong, and it’s the one who was there, admiring you silently all along, who loves you no matter how much money you have, who is Mr. Right, the Mister to Marry, and marry him you do. In Venus Envy, there’s a heavy-kiss/light-hearted wink of an ending that indicates the protagonist, Alex, is going to say yes to her Right Man who loves her through rich and poor and thick and thin, and they will marry, and be Happily Ever After.
The women followed in P&P are basically the same as Alex, or Bridget, only they are from a time when a woman could expect to marry and give birth at most. Alex and Bridget’s chick lit adventures tail off from P&P in that they are not stuck in quaint country homes awaiting suitors; yet essentially, in these characters’ lives, the driving factor is the same. They’re motivated by men.
Men and Marriage are the same thing in Pride and Prejudice, I’ve gotta say; there’s little satisfactory distinction between a man and the act of getting married to him, even though it’s pointed out that Jane and Elizabeth quite like their respective suitors. Marriage is not the announced motivator for Alex and Bridget, but there are a bunch of side-motivations, branches that add to the whole tree, so to speak, of what drives these women to work so hard, impress men in their lives.
There’s the side-motivation of competing with other women. Looking good. Dressing well and giving the impression of affluence even when there’s a natural lack of it. Pleasing parents and side-stepping the nasty comments of women one must work with who point out rips and tears in your outfit with the glee of a child finding their favourite cartoon character out on the street, some poor sweating man paid to manifest an unreality into reality. And usually the vile comments about your outfit and makeup are unfounded, an unreality, and the men typically find you lovely and this is the acceptable truth, not the truth belonging to the snarky rival women.
This is chick lit. It attracts the sillier molecules radiating off my feminine energy as I read, and siphons them off by amusing me for an hour, until I realise how not-feminist the feminist protagonist keeps claiming herself to be, how hypocritical the whole thing is. This helps me regain balance and return to a state where I may read a heavier story, in other words. This is why I read chick lit in between heavy books, and never varying from the only couple of chick lit novels I am brave enough to keep in my reading sphere. Bridget Jones’ Diary and Venus Envy. Anything from the 2000s onward would be too close to home, and any new scene of chick lit-ness would only be a disaster to pay for. I am sorry to sound like a snob but I really would rather spend the little money I have, when I do ever have it, on books of literary quality.
Chick lit – you read one or two and you’ve read as much as you need to, if not all (as I’m sure there are clever enough authors out there who are coming up with denser, more believable, but almost better-quality plots and character building schemes than I’m aware of; I just don’t need to know about it!). But there’s nothing wrong with making them your one-and-only in terms of books. Whatever works for an individual works.
Anyway, to an aside: what is so laudable about Pride and Prejudice? The reason I never wanted to read it was because I knew it was all about girls waiting around to be married off. Now I’ve read it, it’s love that they’re seeking, but the idea of love is so fragile, like a web, something the story won't touch, for it'll break apart if we have these girls examine the idea of love too closely. Plain and simple, it really is marriage and the security that comes with it that they love, I feel.
Love is not communicated strongly, not for me, between the four central characters, even though the right words are there in some places and they all do overcome stringent rules about class and place to be with whom they please; any passage where love might be sensed, like where Jane and Darcy, towards the end, can finally speak openly of their feelings, and where they defy the witch who insists on their never getting married, just doesn’t feel all that real to me, simply because of a personal sense that I don’t connect with this time, this era, the version of love allowably woven through a journey towards matrimony. Yep, it is due to my personal taste that I can’t connect it.
(In Bridget Jones, I can believe it, which might make me dense for not being able to get into the mindset of ye olde times and understand how love of eras past might legitimately be felt and expressed, for only believing what I know, that it takes time to truly know a person and to know for sure that they are The One who won’t ditch you at the first chance of something prettier, lighter, less verbose, etc.)
Maybe the story doesn’t need to be laudable. I’m not consciously looking for a novel to tell me how to live life; how to feel; the right morals to follow ... a basic spiritual guidance counsellor, for all intents and purposes. I don’t read looking for guidance. I don’t imagine I’d ever write hoping someone would take guidance from me (supposing I’m good enough I could hook anybody into following my advice, intricately paced and sighed through my work of literature. :P).
But anyway, the writer’s purpose isn’t simply to relay the details of a situation and feelings that arise about it, but as Zadie Smith has put it, ‘to tell us how the world works.’ (My understanding: stories are about not the What, but the How.) This is apt when applied to P&P.
The story gets interesting enough in its own way, with the little scandals people today would consider trifling. Yet it reeks of chick lit to me. Wasn’t this Way Back When’s version of today’s Happily Ever After chick lit fodder? What do I know … it seems like the kind of story that would be. Women who get their men in the end. Thereby securing financial freedom. Just like sophisticated urban women in modern chick lit novels, except in the latter the women are claiming they never needed husbands or think of the financial freedom at all.
The obvious fact is that Austen was a superb writer with a great and distinct voice, which is why I suppose that author is listed among the top writers of all time. At the same time I can’t help feeling I’m either still not getting something or have been too ruined by the high school education system which tells me the kind of writing featured in P&P is too straightforward, giving no nuance or layering to plot and storytelling; dull, telling and not showing, lacks metaphor and motifs, so on and so forth …
Still, I’m not actively looking out for stunning use of metaphor, motifs, writing that shows-not-tells when I first read something. If a writer is clever, these things occur to me as they pop up, but they don’t intrude on my individual reading process. All I want first time round is to read thoroughly, make sure I catch every necessary line, hang on to them all, and get to the end understanding at least most of what’s happened.
Some stories can leave you bewildered in a very good way, so that you want to read them over again, go back over for clues or to read especially beautiful passages. I don’t want to go back over Pride and Prejudice. There’s nothing extra, no undertone, no riverbed into which diamonds have fallen, lost under the streaming surface of water, that I want to examine.
And yeah, a book by Austen doesn't need to offer that, for what makes it worth the read is the voice itself, I can recognise that much; and no chick lit novel requires that quality. That isn’t the point of a light-hearted read. I don’t need that quality in everything I read. But it leaves me wondering again, what I’m missing about Austen, as a writer, aside from her voice, that has made her so lauded by men and women of modern times. Was it that she was able to formulate her books and get them out into the hemisphere in her day and age – is that what makes her especially special, buoying her near to the top of our greatest author lists? I have been ruined by 'whole packages' like Jeffrey Eugenides, I suppose, whose work is fulfilling on multiple levels, for multiple reasons, even if there's a point where I'm not getting something, not enjoying a part of the work.
I guess I will try Emma, or something, just to see if something more brilliant in that lauded work by Austen doesn’t knock me on the head and say hello.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Good Advice Works Even When You Fail To Follow It (If That Makes Sense)

A piece of advice given to young writers by Ray Bradbury is to leave novel writing for later, and instead aim to write a short story a week.
The logic here is that at the end of the writing year you’ll have produced plenty of material, and at least a fraction of this material must be usable, editable, in order to be publishable. (Lots of -ables!) Because out of 52 stories, yeah, you’d think a few would turn out to be real gems.
Last year I set out to take such advice because I couldn’t imagine being my age and churning out enough writing daily to produce a first draft in the time I would like to – which is a year. And though my would-be novel-ish project is nowhere near as complicated as a book like Cloud Atlas, I baulk when an author like David Mitchell talks about writing hours:
‘I could probably do ten if I had them, but I’ve got two young children, so I can either be a halfway decent dad or I can be a writer who writes all day. I can’t really be both. As things stand, I might clock in three hours on a poor day, and six or seven on a productive day.’
– yeesh! Ten hours if you could?! For me, three hours is a good day. Ha! It makes me realise how I’ve really gotta up my ante.
So it’s obvious why I wanted to follow Bradbury’s advice. I’d wind up with more material that way, I thought. But a couple weeks in, a near-complete short story just wasn’t reaching completion. I couldn’t pinpoint the ending because I wanted to keep ‘fleshing it out.’ The next week, I had a dream which provided a substantial idea for a new story, and decided to keep on with the previous week’s story at the same time. But then these stories turned out to feel connected, even though they were very different; magnetic strands of something I could feel would turn out to be one big short story.
It turned out there was more to both, and a third strand to come in a couple weeks later. By then I was ignoring the weekly story endeavour. I had already written beyond the scope of a short story, and then, more than what makes up your average novella.
Does it matter that the short story deal failed? It’s a wonderful swing of luck or fortune, I think, that an idea blossomed so pervasively, incorporating three different concepts lurking in mind, driving me to create so much material on a regular basis that I do feel, if I work as hard as possible on my actual writing, could be a viable piece of work.
It could be a project that takes a year to complete or ten – may have to restructure it many times, rework the story itself, maybe it is a complete slab of crap – but it’s still worth the effort, and the failure to keep on path with an original plan.
I still produce a complete draft of a story every now and then. I just don’t think they’re that good, my 'best work.' I feel much better about the bigger project.
I imagine most writers have an inkling of whether they’re more invested in short stories or novels early on. Here’s my guestimate at this point in time: I’m in this for whatever novels I can write. I like what I’m doing now much better than my short stories. But Bradbury’s advice was still worth following, and will be in future, when I’m free and loose and without direction, waiting for the next idea to hit me on the head, then whisk me away.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Moody Monday: Swimming Through Denial

In browsing the Internet for websites about writing, I came across Kristi Holl’s wonderful blog. This post in particular, in which she outlines ‘The Four Dreadful Ds’, has reminded me of my own follies. Specifically, my major ‘D’ is Denial. It is long and sometimes blue and watery just like the river, my Denial.
(Will the ‘de Nile’ joke ever fall into extinction? It probably should. I’m sorry for perpetuating it.)
My Denial is long because I’ve been at this not all that long, I understand, compared to others, but it has been ages relative to the span of my lifetime. Because it feels like it’s been an age to me, Denial forges itself into belief that, after working on my writing for years, my stories are good enough now to start being accepted by literary reviews, or what-have-you, regardless of my age.
There are superb talents who find themselves published young, but almost never are they as young as I am. I know this logically. So what am I really expecting? See, for a long time, I’ve had this niggling expectation undermining my great fort of Logic which says I won’t be published for years yet. It’s akin to the pea under all my many mattresses of Logic and Productive Thoughts. I can feel it there when I sleep, that one angling pea of Denial which would have me believe that right now I could accomplish it ALL (as in everything I want), if only people got with the programme already, and ‘got me.’
My Denial is blue because denial is a very sad modus operandi to indulge in. It’s sad to onlookers and even sadder for the self. Blue is an amazing, versatile colour with plenty of meaning. My de Nile becomes indelibly blue in some patches, for the depressing quality of its flow; though sometimes sparkling prettily with hope, other times it’s just dull, an unremarkable surface only there to stare back at the sky. But blue doesn’t cover the whole spectrum, true. It’s murky in some parts, making it difficult to gauge its depths. Elsewhere, it runs shallow and transparent. You can see dirt and scum and a mucky floor. Some parts it billows across my terrain so broadly that I can actually use the de Nile to my advantage: to fertilise ideas, certain fallow inspirations, working under an illusion that the plentiful results are usable, that somehow I might keep up such productivity into the season where most of what is harvested turns out overly ripened, close to rot. Some parts it slows to a trickle, de Nile, but this is where its tinkling rush laughs louder than previous roaring waves, because the latter can blend into the background, be mistaken for wind; the light, tinkling trickle, that is what tickles into everything you’re doing and becomes much harder to ignore.
Naturally, Denial is watery. When it comes a-blasting, what do you do but let it drench you in your silliness? I’m so connected to my art; I’m not ashamed to admit how often I’ve cried over it. I’ve cried because a painting or story wasn’t coming out the way I meant it to. Which typically means I wasn’t being true to how I wanted it to come out. I’m so susceptible to people’s idea of ‘good’ changing what I like to create. Why create something I don’t like? Spending so much time conforming, placing such importance on what everybody else will see while forgetting the true message you wanted to communicate, renders the piece empty of message, empty of soul. It’s all about visual, what can be seen. But not what can be seen then absorbed, chewed on, swallowed, digested. Thought about. It’s a painting of a pretty flower, the kind of thing anyone could produce, something common that will never compare to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Why wouldn’t you cry if you found out you’d been compromising your potential for the sake of pretty flowers that anybody could produce?
How to sum up? I guess I’m a watery person. I’m pretty sure mental illness runs strongly through the branches of both sides of my family tree, and I’m not a light-hearted spirit in the slightest, so ‘the blues’ apply easily enough here. I’m long-winded, which covers the long bit. See, I’m Denial itself.
Admitting it is the first step to good riddance, though. The trick is to keep aware. What other commonplace phrases about Denial could I expound? At this point I really do have to keep in mind that the only thing that matters is denying negative thoughts I feed myself, like all the above; continuing to deny them as Denial itself denies my person of much good sense and sanity when I’m lost in the labour of my craft.
And each new day I slog at this, the easier it is to trust my instincts and keep going. ‘Just keep swimming’ is the way to go with denial. Jumping into Denial is daunting but I’ve found it’s the only way to keep your motion flowing forward, so you won’t stay fighting some persuasive current, or even one that’s stagnated and left your brainwaves cold. Swimming through it, swallowing some accidentally, but never minding, and aiming for the other side – getting to the other side – is the best way to overcome that undermining body …
So I keep telling myself.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Opining: Nobody's Opinion EVER Counts That Much ...

One thing that is both a pro and con about aiming to become a 'for-sure' writer is that all your friends who nurse the same hopes, but are less sure of themselves about it (and all mine are, which is why I'm the 'serious' one in that respect) will come to you with their work and ask for feedback.
When this happens I have to conduct a sort of interview before I take the piece and agree to read it. I have to make sure I know exactly what they want. It's a very touchy situation, because, as most understand, handing over a piece of your writing, whether it's poetic or prose, feels inexplicably like letting them see you naked. It really does. The writing may not be 'personal' yet it is, in a way, because it's some of that person's deepest imaginings. It's a sort of spiritual nakedness - almost.
Anyway, I question them on what they want me to do, because sometimes they only want you to proofread. They’ve typed the piece of writing: obviously they have spell-check and know how to use it, but upon explanation you’ll learn they’re uncertain of their grammar, and know sometimes the mechanised spell/grammar check doesn’t recognise what is humanly awkward in language, and at other times can change what was meant to be humanly awkward in the language, etc. They want you to pick up what the check would gloss over, and ignore what the check would otherwise nit-pick when any human eye would never bother.
There are others who might find your nit-picking over spelling and grammar offensive. Believe me, I've known these people. They will say they can sort that out for themselves - though why they couldn't do so before handing the piece on for reading is beyond me, as basic mistakes are annoyingly distracting, unless it's a purposeful contribution to the piece. But these are the types who just want to know if what they’ve written connects, flows, makes sense. If it’s any ‘good.’
Others still want the whole editor deal out of you. I suppose that’s sort of a compliment, that they see you as someone as authoritative as an editor, and that they find you worthy enough to wreak editor-havoc on their work. However, when you’re still finding your own way with this writing business, it can be a bit much, no matter how flattering to your ego.
More than that, the struggle I have when friends come to me, desperately requiring my ‘services,’ and advice, is in offering the feedback. There’s no way you won’t annoy them. You tell them the ending might drag or be a little too cloying in sentiment, or that their descriptions are of too laborious; their voice goes distant and their eyes glaze over, even as they continue nodding, by now only pretending to listen to you. It’s a terrible, tense time. You have no choice but to keep talking because, well, they asked for your opinion. They have no choice but to let you because, well, they asked, and they know it.
I don’t know it all. But I will offer my opinion when asked. I may not be right, but my response is always as a reader, as much as a friend, as much as someone who knows how to pick out the flaws in her own writing. When my opinion goes ‘so far’ as to put a person off writing, what then? Were they really invested?
Nobody’s opinions, constructive or cruel (depends which side of Logic’s fence my perception is hanging out on at any given time!) would ever motivate my Giving Up on writing. But what has kept me going is knowing there is at least one person in the world who genuinely believes my writing is something special. Another person’s less than favourable opinion doesn’t diminish that.
If my opinion makes a person want to stop, it proves to me their hopes were a little too tentative; they may return to writing later, when older and a little more tough of skin and worldly of life experience. It doesn’t mean ‘the End’ of their potential. But if you can be stopped by someone’s subjective opinion, one you asked for, one from a friend who you ought to be able to trust means it constructively, amiably, then the passion for telling your story, any stories existing within, waiting to come out, isn’t as strong as that of those who barge on. Those who barge on whether they accept and apply constructive opinions or say PHOOEY and ignore them anyway – either is the true writer’s modus. Giving up because external opinions have proven too important is not.
It could be the world's best publisher, your husband, or your mother, or your best friend, or a stranger on the internet, who takes issue with something you've written, and it's perfectly okay to place such importance on all those figures equally, or one more than the other, and have one of them, professional in the literary world or personally your rock, be the naysayer to end all literary output from your corner. It really is okay to do things that way, if it's what you want. But the choice to give up is ultimately yours, whatever the impetus to do so, whoever's voice you let 'guide' you with their perceived negativity (or the lack of complete unabated adoration you were probably expecting). You and your choices are what matter; someone else's opinion, never as much as you and your choices. 

Friday, 8 February 2013

Opining: On Talent in Writing

To begin with, I’m not too sure that being able to tell stories more effectively than others, enough that someone would tell you in your formative years that you are good enough to someday be really good at it, is that much of a talent. In fact, I’m not so sure any skill or ability the world likes to call talent is as as special as the word ‘talent’ implies. It’s naysaying and gloomy to question the notion of talent like this, which is why I don’t think about it much, but it seems to need addressing now I’m starting a blog specifically centred on the only talent I can lay claim to.
What I want to address first is the act of writing about writing, as if I know much about it, or as much as any other among the multitudes of young ‘aspiring’ writers who keep blogs about their writerly endeavours. I want to address the point that I don’t ‘know’ much. I am not going to school to study creative writing, and I am not going to school to study literature, or English, even though either would definitely be of massive value in my writerly endeavours. I am not getting an education that will teach me how to get published in the book world’s current climate. Call me pompous, but I feel I can learn all I need to as long as I write regularly, study the novels and stories I’m reading closely, pay special attention to structuring and voices, and prune my own often overblown language style with a clear mind.
It may take forever to get my work accepted by a publication or publishing house this way; I may never be published. But I don’t mind this enough to go to school and hone my storytelling craft there.
I’m reluctant to call myself ‘aspiring.’ I was an aspiring writer as a teenager, when I’d written only three or four complete stories but all were lauded by an English teacher, and then, without writing much more than a couple other stories, I began dreaming of having those stories make up the bulk of a very slim short story collection that would be my first ever publication that would garner me all sorts of awards and recognition. I was aspiring then, when I wasn’t aware I had to work on it – building up my store of work in order to actually make progress; my wording and sentences; my voices. It wasn’t occurring to me that just because a teacher liked my work and saw potential in it didn’t mean the way I wrote then was all I needed and I was set for life.
So I was ‘aspiring’ as a teenager. Now I am twenty-one years old; I’ve been working on my writing for a couple of years. I would estimate that I’m years away from being good enough. I started tentatively submitting work to competitions and publications around six months ago and one out of the nine or ten pieces I’ve submitted thus far came close to being worthy (finalist in a generously-rewarding competition! which I’m probably happier about than I ought to be). I understand that for a lot of writers who are trying to get their first acceptance, this isn’t a bad sign. So hopefully I’ll start submitting a lot more this year; better than not trying at all …
I think that I’m aware of what makes good writing good, and that I will be able to better mine all the time. It’s one thing to understand instinctively that something you’re reading is good or exceptional, but it’s another to learn from that story or novel and ensure that you consciously apply what you learn to your own work – without blatantly imitating what you’ve read, therein undermining your own style.
This is essentially how I’m trying to better my writing – reading and learning from a load of established authors’ great novels and short stories.
To the point about talent, then, because we know established authors are talented, and the people who are currently writing vigilantly and being discovered by great publishers this very moment are talented, so who am I to say their talent isn’t all that real or special? Maybe I ought to state what I will about talent for myself and never mind whether others’ talent; I ought to be a naysaying gloomy guts about myself only.
There are moments in time when I prefer to call myself a storyteller over ‘writer,’ because
a) I’m more connected to stories than I am to the art of writing, hence my not wanting to dedicate years and thousands of dollars towards studying so much language; I think language can be used beautifully and I want to use it the right way and I do care about it, but at the same time storytelling is the more primitive aspect of this deal and that’s where the essential beauty lies for me; and
b) I don’t think writing is the only platform I could have found to channel my storytelling – it was just the mode of expression most accessible to me early on in life.
It’s by chance that I wasn’t born into a more creative environment, to parents who might have introduced me to a paintbrush or a piano instead of teaching me to spell and speak English and read so well early on as my actual parents did. Maybe I always would have discovered an affinity for writing, though, whatever the circumstances. I could really be one of those egos who loves the written word for how tangibly it corroborates and preserves through time one’s scope and depth of imagination and eloquence. Who knows?
For me it’s all tied to chance. Isn’t my wish to tell stories, and my only spark of promise and potential being that ability to conjure stories, a product of childhood circumstances anyway?
If I’d never been bored or lonely I wouldn’t have needed to gather all my felt-tipped pens, turn them into my imaginary friends, and send them on muted adventures and then have them all write down what they’d seen. If I’d never been able to go to school and learn about outer space I never would have experienced that particular burgeoning inclination towards the universe, the idea of something existing outside of our blue sky, and eventually, my narrow toleration of science fiction in the form of deep love for Doctor Who and Frank Herbert’s incredible series Dune. If my mother and father hadn’t wound up living in New Zealand I would probably be in Fiji, without the sort of education I was lucky to get here, without all the influences that capitalised on my inherent inquisitiveness and got me hooked on the world, as well as the often ridiculous minutiae of people’s lives and what hooks them, and I’m sure I wouldn’t be writing, if finding a way to tell stories at all.
So yes, for me it’s chance. If there’s talent, it’s only allowed to come out with the spurring and ongoing culmination of environment and influences. One with talent is always susceptible to letting that sensitive need to be witnessed become so influenced by his or her universe. This must be how you wind up with so many writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers, so on. It’s your environment, the universe, that both allows and inspires.
I used to roll my eyes when people said, ‘the universe brings me a story/song/vision, all I do is channel it and complete it for the rest of the world to see’ – it’s usually something to that effect, isn’t it? (I’m not a God-believer but I am not against other people believing, and so I would say it’s fair when they grant their talents back to their higher power, because it makes sense that some people can do some things better than others and some people have no obvious talent at all because a God would mould everybody differently, obviously, to have different purposes and paths, etc.). I would roll my eyes because it always sounds like such a cliché, and also because I’m not for sounding like a prophet or what-have-you about one’s art. That aside, I agree that the universe is what brings these stories and songs and visions. We’re a product of our world and our world is a product of us – kind of a chicken-egg cycle, almost, only here I’d say first we have to have that special grain of luck which allows our particular intrigues, temperaments and innate compulsions to be stoked and spurred by what our environment can offer us in the way of creativity.
Even so, often a complete dearth of inspiration for the right sort of temperament and mind can be enough of a canvas on which to create a complete fantasy world where anything can happen, even if one has no idea whether or not such possibilities have any basis in reality.
A lot of people are good at turning this ability/need to express and share stories or messages into their boon, their full-blown ‘talent.’ It takes a lot of hard work and perserverance to become good enough to be published, let alone create a whole body of work that will be respected by a good number of people. And it’s at this point that I question the notion of talent. That talent, that ability to use words or brushstrokes or strums or so on in an instinctual but also often very conscious order and manner, is a product of what’s influenced us, as much as it is rooted in the self, the psychological and spiritual self’s need to absorb the world and ferment faces and places and churn up something for their comrades to absorb for themselves and think upon. The content comes from both within and without, as much as the understanding, in particular regards to writing, as to how words fit and flow together.
You have to have the right ear and if you’ve been around enough, listened enough, it’s because the world has allowed you to be, and the world has allowed you to eavesdrop and pick up its secrets for your purposes – but there’s also credit for your cunning and determination to seek out, learn those secrets and make use of them for your needs.
And none of it means anything without the hard work put in to make your particular talent seen/heard. Is someone really so 'talented' if they had the ability to be a great something-or-other, but didn't put the work and effort in to be so? As opposed to someone with less obvious or natural-born talent, but who has worked hard and gained ability enough to be considered successful? The former just had a lot of potential that wound up going to waste; talent is not a word I'd use at that point. And the latter is the one who used what talent he or she had, but combined it with good work ethic and determination to gain success in what they do. I don't think my view of this fits with most views, particularly on a topic that is quite narrow like writing, but considering all the people I've met, people my age, who say they want to be writers, but then complain that they just don't know what to write, they thought it would be so easy, well, what am I to think? I look to my favourite authors and can't imagine them struggling with what to write. They got on with it and sweated through the struggle. They were hard workers more than they were talented, is my opinion.  
Altogether, I look at it like singing – a beloved opera singer could just as easily have been born with a terrible voice that no number of lessons could reasonably tune, and then would never have risen to the top of their field. Or acting – someone like Keanu Reeves virtually always comes off quite wooden yet he’s gotten a lot more parts than such a wooden actor ought to, no? And good acting is so much harder to judge than most else of the arts, I think, because you can forget that a person is actually acting and start to lose yourself in their character, but if that person is pretty much their character already, making it an easy task for them to play this role, is it really ‘good’ acting, whether or not you believe they *are* this character? Acting ‘talent’ comes from chance as much as singing does, it seems to me, when you look at what is popular today, and how arbitrary popularity really is.
Obviously, you can learn to sing and act better (depending on what ‘better’ is according to the bigwigs of showbiz and the general public), and you can hone your craft, and turn your potential into marketable talent; and you may not have to be as good as you think, or even all that deliberate about it, in order to go out and get noticed, and then be granted great opportunities to ‘live the dream.’ The same can happen with writing, Fifty Shades of Gray being the operative example. Writing can be learnt and honed into some marketable talent, but except in cases like Fifty Shades, unless the universe contrives for your particular brand of talent to coincide with what others like, want to read, and can at least somewhat agree is brimming with insight, intrigue and such arbitrary value to the world, then one’s ability/talent to conjure readable stories is no more special or fascinating than one’s ability/talent to blow smoke rings.
It’s just that the ability to do the latter sometimes take lots of practice to achieve, whereas some people can do it without mindfully trying. The very same can go for writing. It’s arbitrary. But with writing, we can make something of it, as the world is full of audiences who love to be enraptured by a storyteller.
So here, I’ll call writing not so much a talent as a natural and well-incited determination to be heard.
All that’s channelled through writing, for me, is a conglomeration of influences, and I don’t want to hold credit for it all. I don’t personally believe that credit is owed to me.
Countless of others are just as young and full of writerly ambition as me, and it doesn’t seem right to try and claim we’re all uniquely talented, or that I’m uniquely talented and will absolutely positively make it where most won’t – as most of us won’t ‘make it,’ which is just how it’s going to be, as it’s always been that way.
The nice thing about being young and starting out is that you don’t know you won’t make it for sure, and even when you’re completely full of self-doubt, you still have time on your side, so such self-doubt can still feel too frivolous and futile to entertain. By reminding myself of the arbitrary nature of what will work and what won’t, and of my own abilities, I feel a strange but definite comfort; I’m able to stop questioning why I bother at all. I remember that I bother because I want to, talent or no, and it’s as simple as that.