Fiction or Non-Fiction? Finding My Voice

“I am a writer.”

I forced  encouraged myself to tell someone that for the first time yesterday,  when I went in for an eye appointment with a new doctor and they were getting my background information.

“I am a writer.”

“You’re a writer? ”

“”Well, I’m trying to be a writer?” (my inevitable self-deprecation). ” That’s the first time I’ve claimed it out loud.”

“And that’s good, isn’t it?”

I thought it was good except for my  backtracking, diminishing my belief in myself as a writer. Why is it so hard to say and believe? After all, a writer writes. I write, every day. So, I’ve only been paid for a couple of articles and that was long ago. That doesn’t mean I am not a writer.

A writer is, after all, someone who writes. Of course, I want to be a writer who writes as my profession. I would like to make a little money for my words.

First, of course,  I have to produce good work.

Part of the reason that I am (sort of) taking a break from blogging (which really means giving myself permission to blog when I feel like it, rather than feeling an imagined pressure to post every day) is so that I can focus on other writing, on Works in Progress. Up until now, I’ve had a lot of Works but not a lot of Progress.

If I want to be a writer, I have to write and complete something. Yes, I technically have two books under wraps (a dissertation and a fiction novel for middle grader readers) but they remain objects of times past,  hidden in the depths of my overstuffed bookshelves where they will probably remain, unread by any new eyes.

It is time for me to move on and practice the art of writing. If I want to be an author, then I must treat author as a verb. I must author books.

So far I have written between 5000-6000 words on both of my current full-length fiction projects.  A lot of it has been character exploration, or the wanderings of my mind as I try to figure out the actual stories I am trying to tell. Some of it may make it into the books, but some may just live on as an exploration in time, place, history, character and background–all the things I need to know to make these character’s come to life for my readers. If I ever finish them enough  to have readers.

Over the past week or so, I have discovered that I can focus more on these projects by leaving my home office for part of the day. When at home, I’m more tempted to distract myself with computer games, or books, or a little tv. When in a public place, like a coffee shop, even if I have my computer I am less susceptible to the easy access available on my screen. I may check e-mail, but I focus on my goal. I have also discovered the joy of going for walks and then exploring character or story in handwritten pages on a yellow pad, which I then transfer to my computer (with edits) when I return home.

Today, however, my journey to an outside workplace  threw challenges in my writing path. First I stopped at the office supply story to buy index cards, since they helped me plot my last writing ventures. From there I headed to the coffee shop next door, only to find after purchasing my Chai Latte and a healthy snack that there was no place to sit and plot. Not a single spot.  I didn’t want to return home, so I decided to be naughty and bring my purchases to one of my other writing haunts, a nearby Barnes & Noble. I figure I spend enough money there that bringing outside food and drink was acceptable once in a while.

While driving in search of these various possible writing locations, I listened to NPR. I only caught snippets of talk shows but they were each interviews with authors. The first was with Ruth Richardson,  an expert on Charles Dickens who wrote Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor. While I am not an avid Dickens fan, I love hearing authors discuss their work, and I am really fascinated by history and non-fiction in general.

Should I be writing non-fiction? The question popped into my head.

The second interview was with David Rees, the author of  How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers,  Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants.

I kid you not. That is the actual title.

Now, I know I am not the most comical writer in the world, so perhaps I’m not the best person to write the follow-up book of HOW TO ERASE MARKS COMPLETELY AND FULLY  AFTER USING THE PERFECTLY SHARPENED ARTISINAL PENCIL. But, the reality that a book like that exists speaks loud and clear to a fact that you can write non-fiction about anything.

Again the question, should I be focusing on non-fiction?

I can write non-fiction. I’ve been doing it almost daily in this blog. I have done it in hundreds of pages of academic speak. I have plenty of non-fiction books in my idea pile.  You know, the ideas that are works without a lot of progress.

In a publishing market where the big sellers seem to be Young Adult or non-fiction, why am I pounding away at two books that I can’t quite even classify yet? (They both lie somewhere in the realm of fantasy meets contemporary literary fiction, social satire).

In many ways I believe that part of my struggle with saying “I am a writer” relates to a general struggle I have had surrounding my life.

I cannot label myself in a single word.

Well, I can describe myself in two words: Renaissance Woman.

Perhaps I should be writing about that?

Riding on the Coattails of Fame

I heard a radio advertisement yesterday that the great  great (great?) grandson of Charles Dickens would be presenting a reading of A Christmas Carol somewhere, creating different voices of all the characters.

Charles Dickens, a former resident of Lant Street.

Image via Wikipedia

Interesting? Perhaps, but it got me thinking about how many people get opportunities to publish, to speak, to act, to . . . whatever,  simply because of their relationship to someone famous. They may not have a single talent in their own right, but a distant link to a distant relative gets their foot in the door like nothing else can.

I suppose the children of writers, artists, actors, great politicians (if there is such a thing), speakers, etc. have it in their blood,  but talent doesn’t necessarily get passed down from generation to generation. They may have access to incredible teaching, and opportunities to absorb the craft of whatever it is through observation and interaction, but that does not guarantee  the same skill and ability will resurface.

Still, in our world of aggrandizing movie stars and putting people on pedestals, talent seems less important than having a famous relative. There are almost too many examples of this, and whenever you walk into a book store you can easily find a book published by a name, not a famous writer but someone who is writing because he/she is famous or related to someone famous.

Perhaps if I could trace my lineage back to someone famous, I too would be able to ride the coattails of fame. Or, better yet, if I could prove I was, indeed the REINCARNATION of William Shakespeare or Charlotte Bronte, or anyone else with creative chops that I admire I could simply walk up to a publisher and say “here is my manuscript, you will publish it errors and all.”

Charlotte Bronte

Lisa Bronte Kramer

Sadly, my grandfather on one side was a butcher and on the other a salesman (insurance I think). I cannot simply use my name for fame.

Now I have not heard this descendant of Dickens perform, and he could be a perfectly talented storyteller. But here is an interesting observation from Louisa May Alcott quoted in the Cheever’s biography I have been quoting from so liberally lately:

. . . [S]he excited went to her Dickens read and came away bitterly disappointed in the man and his performance. “Youth and comeliness were gone, but the foppishness remained, and the red-faced man, with false teeth and the voice of a worn-out actor had his scanty grey hair curled.”

It just goes to show you that just because your name is on the book, doesn’t mean you are the best person to perform it. 😉

I would argue that most actors nowadays get their big break because of their connections with someone else. If you look at some of the new stars of stage and screen, you nearly always find “daughter of so and so” or “nephew of what’s his name.”

It is almost impossible to make it on talent alone.

And that, my friends, is one of the biggest problems with our society. The rich get richer, not because they are more deserving than others or work harder, but because they are related to the original founder of that fortune. People get to write books and have them published traditionally, not because they ar the best wordsmiths on earth, but because they were born to someone famous. Performers get their opportunities to perform because Daddy brought them onstage. A woman whose claim to fame is only a big booty and a lifelong friendship with the daughter of someone rich and famous can keep herself plastered in the news with fake marriages, reality television, as well as “running” her own business (I wonder who really runs it). A man, the son of a former president, maintains a presidency by manipulating a system and leaves chaos in his wake which he then blames on the upstart who dared to step into the presidency without any family connections.

I wish we were in  a world where truly talented individuals could make their marks rather than a world dominated by people riding on the fame of their more talented ancestors. Don’t you?

%d bloggers like this: