The Sound of Silence

I’ve been a very naughty writer the past few months, both on here and with my fiction. I could give a multitude of excuses–tired from work, tired from cancer, tired from children, tired from being tired all the time–but one factor in particular takes the lion’s share of the blame, one which I am still working through–discovering what kind of writer I am and what kind of writer I want to be.

I read widely, as most wannabe writers do or should. Fantasy, science fiction, suspense, humor, mysteries, historicals, literary fiction, and so on and so forth. I usually have at least two different books going at the same time, almost always completely different from one another. For example, I have been most recently reading Last Words: A Memoir by George Carlin and The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem.  Also, I’ve been listening to an audio version of Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer (if I hear one more time about how beautiful Edward is, I’m going to puke on my treadmill.)  I have no trouble keeping them all straight, as long as they are completely different from one another.

Like my reading habits, my writing preferences stretch across the spectrum.  I have written fantasy novels and short stories, both contemporary and traditional.  I have written hard-boiled crime stories.  I have written about vampires, werewolves, and zombies.  I have also written moving stories about Christmas and stories about Christmas with zombies.  I’m as eclectic on the writing front as I am when reading and that, in part, has led to some difficulties of late being productive.

My problem is that I have lost track of what kind of writing I do best.  I have a particular style that works for me and, through the course of my reading, I find other people’s styles attractive and I tend to drift toward how other authors write rather than sticking with what I know works for me.  The result was that everything I wrote seemed flat and lifeless to me and, for some time, I couldn’t figure out why.  What I finally decided was that I was too concerned about the individual words and how pretty they were and not concerned enough with telling the story.  Word choice is important, don’t get me wrong, but you cannot shake your responsibilities as a writer (i.e. telling a story) just because you want to string together a few pretty phrases or mind-jarring images.  Style, I have learned, is not only deciding who you are as a writer, but also who you are not.  While I may admire the work of Lethem or Michael Chabon or Umberto Eco, I am not them, nor should I pretend or aspire to be.  The stories I see best are not those where I can drift into pages upon pages of literary navel-gazing, but ones where dynamic characters interact and move the story forward through dialogue, action, and a few well-chosen images meant to represent everything else I’m not describing in the scene.  I may admire the creators of literary masterpieces, but I am not, for now, among them.

So, with this new realization that I should just tell the damn story and get on with life, I can feel the constrictions I’ve placed on my writing beginning to lift.  For the first time in several months, I’m beginning to hear my characters again–at a distance, but drawing close enough so that I can capture what they have to say and put it down.    The best part about writing, to me, is going back through something I’ve written and not remembering the act of typing it, knowing that whatever is on the page came from the characters and the situation rather than from my attempts to force something onto the screen.  That unconscious effort produces the best of my writing.

Speaking of writing, I placed my first short story, "The Hunt", at the ezine Flashes in the Dark .  It will go live on August 5th and I encourage everyone to stop by and check out the site.  It publishes "horror flash fiction in daily doses" and provides a fun, quick escape for anyone out there looking for a little darkness in their otherwise sunny lives.  I still have a few short stories out on submission, including one entered in the Short Story Award for New Writers at Glimmer Train, rated as the least accepting market at Query Tracker.  In the meantime, I am looking for more places to submit my stories and will update when something comes of that.

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About Lee Smiley

I write things. Maybe you'll read them.
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