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,