From time to time I mention that I have written or am writing fiction (usually of the science fictional variety), yet I never have said works published. One might wonder, if I have some skill as a writer, why I have not tried to get my work into print for others to see. I had cause to examine that very question this week. I’ll share some of those thoughts now.
What prompted me to consider my relationship with fiction writing was when a published author friend invited me to co-write some science fiction (my genre, right?) and after due consideration, I decided against it.
I’m not going to lie: the decision bothered me a bit.
I’ve been writing fiction–SF or otherwise–for 40 years. Sometimes I’ve shared my stories with others, but not very often, and usually not with an audience beyond friends or family. Why is that?
Truth be told, fiction writing is not about storytelling for me. Fiction is quite literally therapy, appearing in a literary form. While I try to maintain a reasonably jovial, benign exterior most of the time, I can also be a hypersensitive, temperamental, emotional pain in the asterisk. I don’t like to admit that, and I usually don’t let a lot of people see that side of me. Instead of journal writing, which I’ve done consistently for 29 years, I sometimes compose myself (in more ways than one) in fictional form.
Sometimes a problem is bothering me to such an extent that writing about it directly, in mere journalistic format, is not enough. Or sometimes it’s so painful that I have to write about the problem in fictional form to give myself some emotional distance from the things that are really bothering me. Still, I feel the need to dramatize whatever is in my head by giving my anxieties or sources of pain/anger concrete(ish) form. I’ll blast out that emotion on paper or screen, and when the story’s over, usually so is the mood that sparked it.
Is the writing any good? Some of my friends might say yes, BUT…and thereafter follow some caveats about things that might need to be improved if I wanted to get the story into publishable form.
Thing is: while the criticisms are often perfectly legitimate, many times I don’t want to get the damn story published because the story was a dialogue between my conscious and subconscious minds. Sometimes I’m dramatizing an idea, not necessarily telling a story. If you want to know how painful that is, try reading Atlas Shrugged a couple times in a row: the ideas are conveyed, but by the end can you say that you were entertained? People usually read fiction for fun, as I do. I am not writing for other people’s entertainment most of the time.
That brings up another literary fault of mine, to which I will plead no contest: I’m not writing for your entertainment or even necessarily enlightenment. I’m writing to myself, for myself, about myself. That’s about as selfish and tiny a circle as one can draw. While that might appeal to some folks on a morbid curiosity level, I’m not in the habit of letting the rest of the world listen in on my therapy sessions (and trust me, I had plenty of them between the ages of 8 and 40). Sometimes, a lot of what I write is nobody’s damn business.
Lastly, there’s this: when I was younger and more unstable, I was cranking out a 25-page story a month or more. As I’ve gotten older, more stable, more settled, and involved in less personal chaos, I haven’t needed to write as much fiction as I used to. Sometimes I’ll kick out a novel for National Novel Writing Month, but that requires some thought, and then that’s the only story I’ll write for that year. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to arrange my life to be as conflict- and stress-free as possible. It’s one thing to read about the imaginary sufferings of nonexistent people; it’s something else again to live through those sufferings oneself, and that is not always fun. Nor is it always fun to put imaginary people into positions of great pain. So to make a long story longer, my fiction is getting boring, even to me. If I’m not interested in having a lot of drama in my own life, why take the time to inflict more?
Anyhow, I realize that I write stories to please myself, and if you’ve never read them, that’s okay. Perhaps you weren’t meant to read them.