Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Something Novel

Could there be anything more ridiculous than writing an essay about writing a novel when you haven't even written a novel? Ponder.  And I shall do the same, sort of.

When I was a school boy there were multiple times when an elementary or middle school teacher would comment on my writing ability. It was good, they claimed.  That, however, doesn't mean a damn thing because that's what school teachers do: encourage and inspire confidence in their students, especially the ones that demonstrate any remote interest or competence in a given subject. And that's about what I had...some small scrap of competence for stringing words together coherently.  That probably stood out to the teachers because from what I observed at the time many of my peers were unable to grasp the basics of their native tongue. The bar was low.

Then came junior college English class, freshman year.  We had to like, write stuff.  I generally found it irritating but less irritating than some of my other classes.  One of our first assignments was a "how to" essay.  It could be about how to do anything.  I wrote an essay on how to cruise the strip for girls in the small east Texas town where I went to high school.  The teacher, bless her heart, really flipped for my essay.  She pulled me aside after class, asked if she could save it and use it as an example for her future classes, told me I was really talented, and insisted that I sign up for the basic creative writing class there at the college.  She was so emphatic about it that I agreed. It sounded like an easy credit.

The creative writing teacher was a more discerning and honest critic. She was, let's say, less than impressed with my verbal virtuosity.  I did okay in the class but she made it clear that I should probably not count on becoming the next great American author.  My feelings were not hurt because I didn't think of my self as a writer anyway.  There were some actual serious writers in the class. People who wrote for the love of writing.  People who were passionate about it and who had read great works of literature and actually knew what the hell they were doing.  I, on the other hand, could only remember reading Charlotte's Web and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe up to that point.  Maybe the Scarlet Letter too, which I detested.  And thinking about it I remember some Geoffrey Chaucer as well.   But I had read very little, had little to no understanding what made good writing or a good story, and my very presence in that class was probably an affront to the other students who actually were serious and gave a damn.  I was an immature, self-absorbed, very young man, going through the kinds of weird things 19 year old boys go through, and as far as school went I was just going through the motions.  Now if she would have told me I was not a good basketball player, my fragile self-esteem might have crumbled irreversibly; but writing?  Blah.

I say all of that to say this:  I am not a gifted writer.  Not then, not now.  Despite some kind words from some well-meaning people, I recognize that there are people out there with a natural talent with words and story-telling and that I am not one of them.


I'm an adult now.  Within the last decade I've discovered a love for reading that was not there when I was in school.  I've sought out good literature and devoured dozens (or more) of very fine novels. Now an avid reader does not a writer make.  I get this. To think so would be like saying all you have to do to become a great basketball player is have a deep admiration for Lebron James.   That's not at all how it works.  To be great or even good at something requires a combination of natural talent and very hard work.    

What piques my curiosity though is the possibility that if I do have some small level of competence with the written word, could that now combine with my more mature appreciation and understanding of good writing to form a potential that is worth exploring?  Most likely not. But it would just be exploring, after all.  Specifically, could I write a novel?

The reason I wonder aloud here about this is because there is a pattern I have noticed in my life.  When something makes a big impression on me it's not enough for me to remain just an observer.  I have to try it.  That's why videos appear here from time to time with me trying to imitate a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo.  I am so taken by something I ask myself "how in the hell do they do that?".  And I have to find out for myself. I see the same thing beginning to happen with writing.  I experience the genius of David Mitchell or Tom Robbins or Charles Dickens and it leaves me with that same "How the hell do they do that?" feeling that eventually leads to me trying it myself.  It's wildly pretentious, laughably ambitious, and will probably amount to nothing more than a mountain of frustration.  I'm still intrigued by the possibilities and the challenge of it though.  There are worse things that I could waste my time on.

While I currently have zero plot ideas for a novel, I do think I have a good grasp of the elements that make a good novel.  Of course, some of that is objective and everyone has different tastes.  There are so many different genres and types of novels it would be hard to know where to start. I mentioned David Mitchell and Tom Robbins and what impresses me so much about them is that their work is really hard to put labels on.  Anything can happen and there are no rules.  For all I know that is probably the most difficult approach and one that only the most gifted can pull off, but it looks really fun.

Where will this lead?  Maybe not even beyond this blog post.  I honestly don't know.  Just thinking aloud as it were.

No comments: