[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]
Why do you write?
Every writer has his reasons. I write because I have to. I have a void within me that can only be filled by writing. (And for those of you who are wondering, yes, I stole that vaguely sexual idea from a misattributed Pascal quote.) I tried to deny it for years, pretend it didn’t exist, but it never went away. And now that I’m back writing fiction again, everything is just fine.
I’ve talked a lot about technical reasons for writing. About how to approach fiction writing with your mind. But what about your heart? Meeting so many people that are inspired to write last week at RavenCon, my brothers- and sisters-in-arms all, has really fired me up. It also got me thinking about the passion behind what we do.
While mulling this stuff, I’ve been not celebrating, but let’s say marking the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I (OK, I’m a few months early) by reading The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. It’s a gripping read, despite the fact that you know how it will end. She focuses on the first month of the four-year war, despite her editors urging her to focus on just the battle of Mons. She pulls out the frame just enough to capture the major battles and intrigues of that first month, but no more. Why did she do it that way?
Because for her, that was the most interesting part. And since it was the most interesting part, she would naturally write it more forcefully and vividly. It shows in the writing, too. You can feel her enthusiasm for her subject. In his foreword to my edition, Robert K Massie, himself a great historian, explains.
People wondered how she did it. In a numbers of speeches and essays…she told them. The first, indispensable quality she declared was ‘being in love with your subject.’ She described on of her professors at Harvard, a man passionately in love with the Magna Carta, remembering ‘how his blue eyes blazed as he discussed it and how I sat on the edge of my seat then too.’ She admitted how depressed she was years later by meeting an unhappy graduate student forced to write a thesis, not on a subject about which he was enthusiastic, but one which had been suggested by his department as needful of original research. How can it interest others, she wondered, if it doesn’t interest you?
Indeed. Believe me, that passage is underlined in my copy. So what does it mean for me, the fiction writer? It means letting the pen follow where the heart leads. It means writing great fiction and not caring if someone wants to label it “science fiction” or “horror” or “literary fiction.” Let the marketers decide that. It means focusing on the time periods, in the past and future, that most interest me. It means developing ideas that I can’t stop thinking about even if other people don’t seem to realize how intriguing they are…yet. In the end that ‘love’ comes through in the writing.
To a great extent, I already do this, but reading Massie’s foreword just solidified my underlying beliefs. Now, it’s up to me to pick up the pen, keep writing, keep submitting stories and keep getting my stuff out to readers.
I can’t wait to keep that going.
A SHORT NOTE FROM REAL LIFE: After a short break at RavenCon last week, I’m taking some vacation this weekend. When that’s over, it’s time to get back to writing and editing fiction. And to write a blog post about my first Con experience. Stay tuned.