Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thoughts on Famous Writing Quotes

I was going through the Goodreads quotes on writing, and it got me thinking about what it mean to be a writer, and what books are, and what fiction is. People say a lot of stuff about writing. Some of it, even the famous stuff, I simply don't believe.

Take the statement that fiction is a lie. One lady, Jincy Willet, put it this way, "Fiction writers lie their heads off. It's their job. They make stuff up." That's a fun idea, that we get to lie and people like it, but just because fiction is made up doesn't make it a lie. A lie is a trick. Complete deception often mixed with harmful intent. Liars are trying to deceive others, mislead others, so the liar can get away with something naughty.

But then there's a whole slew of quotes by people like Stephen King that say fiction is a lie used to find the truth. Neil Gaiman said, "Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things, and which can sometimes pay the rent."

I agree with the truth part, but I disagree with the lie. Fiction isn't a trick at all. A person who writes fiction has imagined an exciting possibility that they want to share, an alternate to the way things are. That's not lying. It's sharing a dream. It's the writer's job to look at the world everyone sees and find new, fresh, undiscovered things about it, and then illuminate them for everyone else. I think that is rather beautiful. But who says the made up part is a lie?

Another thing people rag on all the time is writers block. All sorts of big authors say that writers block is the product of a weak mind, or laziness, or it doesn't exist at all, it's just the writer making it up. Terry Pratchett said, "There's no such thing as writer's block. That was invented by people in California who couldn't write."

Phillip Pullman put it this way, "Writer's block is a condition that affects amateurs and people who aren't serious about writing. So is the opposite, namely inspiration, which amateurs are also very fond of. Putting it another way: a professional writer is someone who writes just as well when they're not inspired as when they are. "

I blogged about writer's block once, here, and I'll admit now like I did then that many times writers block is just a form of procrastination. You don't feel creative, so you don't write. But I think there is more than one form of writers block.

My personal opinion and experience are that true writers block--when you've tried everything, been persistent, stayed at the keyboard, and still haven't made any progress--is actually a sign that you need a break. I have Anne Lamott and Brenda Ueland on my side for this one.

Brenda once said, "The imagination needs moodling--long, inefficient happy idling, dawdling and puttering."

And Anne Lamott comes right out, saying that there definitely is such a thing as writer's block, but that it's not what it seems. "The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you're empty," she says. "...I went for long walks and matinees, and I read. I spent as much time as I could outdoors while waiting for my unconsciousness to beckon...Do your three hundred words, and then go for a walk. Otherwise you'll want to sit there and try to contribute, and this will only get in the way."

Lamott's train of thought is that when you get blocked, you've run out of creative juice, and you need to go recharge. I really agree with this. I think there are natural breaks in writing when the writer needs to go off, and experience the creativity of other people. This involves reading lots of books, listening to music while driving with the windows down, having movie nights, hanging out at coffeeshops, going to antique shops.

I used to be scared of doing that, like I'd enjoy it too much or something, and not ever get back to writing. But if you have the discipline to make yourself sit down and write, and you have the discipline to make yourself get up and take a break, you have the discipline to go back after the break and write again.

I'd like to hear you guys weigh in. What do you think about fiction as a lie, or as a way to show the truth? What do you think about writer's block? Creativity? The act of recharging?

Truly and always,

-Creative A


Darian said...

Didn't Stephen King also have a quote that went like this:

"Fiction is the truth within the lie."

not 100% sure if it was SK, but I've always like it because I think it does come very close to what we do. Our stories are fiction and so not real, and yet are filled with truth and realism so the reader will invest themselves and for a small time, believe.

Angela said...

Sorry that was my comment above. That's what my son gets for not signing out of his account, lol!

Donna said...

Personally I think there's a big difference between what people think of writer's block and just being plain old burnt out. I don't believe in writer's block so I'm going to have to agree with those that say it's a form of procrastination and it's simply an excuse not to write. Writers can write no matter what. You may get stuck on one work but your ability to write something completely unrelated doesn't just go away.

But I do agree that taking breaks is a good thing in order to avoid burn outs. An overload of anything will burn a person right out, not just writing. Being able to step away shouldn't make a person feel guilty but like you said, recharge them to want to write again. I don't think the ability to write is gone, it's just you've done it so much that you just don't want to do it anymore.

Creative A said...

Angela--thanks for the heads up, lol!

I know King said the quote at one point, but he may have gotten it from another author, which is the same reason I didn't want to quote it here. Nice to see your thoughts on this. I really agree with what you said on truth and realism.

Donna--welcome! I can definitely see your point, because procrastination is years away from what happens when you're burnt out.

Besides not wanting to write anymore, I know that when I'm burnt out, it's also a matter of having nothing else to say. I've simply run out of new observations and I need to go make more.


Dork Vader said...

I agree with you on the lie thing. I think of fiction like a wonderful dream. We authors have these dreams in our heads, and we want to share them with others. It's not lying. It's no different than showing someone your beautiful song you wrote or whatever.
And fiction has the added awesomeness of telling truths in a way that can't be managed in the 'real' world. The truth is easier to see in fresh new worlds, where there's a place for every story. While in the real world, all our stories are tangled together, and harder to decipher.
I hope that made sense :P

LS said...

There's a difference between what is merely Real and what is Truth. Fiction (good fiction that is, not the junk), tells truth, only in a slightly different way. It teaches us about friendship, love, courage, righteousness; that is, it teaches truth. If it tells the truth, it can't possibly be lying, can it?

LS said...

There's a difference between something merely Real, and something True. Fiction (good fiction, not the junk) teaches Truth. It tells us about friendship, love, loyalty, courage, righteousness . . . It teaches the truth. If it is telling the truth, it can't possibly be lying, can it?

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