The Issue at Hand

(Originally posted on Blogger site.)

Among the many things that I spend my time arguing with myself about, there is lately one thing that tends to dominate all the others. It’s this issue that particularly seems to throw me into a fit of uncertainty.

A few years ago, I underwent a kind of personal revolution. I came to realize that my life required some changes in modes of thinking, in mindsets that I’d been steeped in for too long. Change — something with which I’ve never had a great working relationship — was imminent. As a result, this dramatic restructuring of thought led to a lot of dramatic restructuring of attitude and behavior. And so I found myself discovering new ways of dealing with life and the conjoined twins of action/responsibility (which sometimes seem to me to be hideous and beautiful at the same time — another kind of dual nature, I guess). Nothing original or new for any human being, really, unless you’d spent a lot of time avoiding these things.

In any event, this shift in attitude left me with a changed sense of things, and it was only a matter of time before I started to realize that this would affect the way that I approached the writing work that I wanted to do. In retrospect, it probably didn’t help much that, during this period of upheaval, I virtually stopped writing altogether.

So the crux of the matter is that feel I now have two “approaches” to writing: an old one, and a sort-of-new one. The difficulty being that this new phase isn’t really distinct, fully-formed, and self-actualized in any real way. It tends to be defined in relation to what it isn’t, rather than what it is, or what it embraces, or what it moves towards. In short: the new one isn’t yet identified, and the old one doesn’t really work for me anymore as a model. Let me elaborate for some clarity.

Under the “old guard,” I would often forsake much attempt at characterization and any elaborate plotting, instead focusing on language, mood, and what I was identifying as The Point. The Point could be described as the driving philosophical concept or question that arose in me after I had the initial germ of a story (which usually came to me as a single image, or a kind of tableau). This granular moment would grow into a very vague sequence of events or situation, the driving philosophical concept/question would emerge from that, and I’d start writing. Language was called upon to create mood, and it would permeate everything towards that end. Character behavior, dialogue, and the “focus” of the narrative lens (for lack of a better phrase) would all be used to press the atmosphere at the reader. Or at least that was my hope. When the reading was done, the desired goal was that the reader should have felt a sort of palpable experience, had some sort of emotional/psychological shift (often, that desired shift would have left the reader less grounded and connected to their emotions), and registered The Point in some way. A feeling of barren confusion was not necessarily a bad end, as far as I was concerned.

Now, though, there are differences. Primarily, the differences are found in my head, which caused problems when I first tried to write again and approached a short story using the old process. There was a disconnection from this former method (yes, ironic, I know), and I didn’t feel that it worked well as a basis on which to structure my fiction. I had moved on to a new perspective, and needed something complimentary in my writing. But much like this new overarching perspective, my attitudes towards the goals of my own writing are not yet ironed out. Whereas the writing used to revel in a universe that was pointless, filled with vacancies and vacuums, I now feel that, to act as an accurate reflection of my own thoughts, the actions in that pointless vacuum would have to create meaning. And the older stories are not necessarily up to that recent responsibility. I’m also left with the feeling that characters who are inscrutable and flat are not going to enhance my fiction very much — yet how do I give interiority and roundness of character that isn’t unbelievable, boring, or overly mundane? Again, I realize this sort of question is one that everyone who is writing is trying to negotiate; nothing original there. But I feel the need to sort some of these thoughts out this way because this issue is so recent for me, something basic that I would have thought years of writing experience would allow me to resolve with more ease. Yet there it is, monolithic and looming, casting a shadow over me.

There is some gradience to this fairly black-and-white portrait, however. I feel that all of the discrete elements of my old approach to writing aren’t necessarily bad and worth casting off; there are elements of style that I had developed and still feel are worth keeping intact. Sometimes this works in a positive way, giving some familiarity in new territory. Other times, it’s odd and disconcerts me even more.

J. Lee, who gives me a lot of invaluable feedback and suggestions, often suggests that I stop thinking about it and start writing. That it will sort itself out in the praxis. I know she’s right, and I’m trying to begin new projects in order to cover some ground and let an order and a method and a style establish itself. But I still feel the need to write this, to give these concerns structure and space. There’s the hope that, in doing so, I’ll make some progress towards understanding, and, from there, towards comfort with my own creative work.

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