Headus Injurius, Or, Why Can’t I Write Fiction Too?

I was having one of my “tired days” yesterday, and when I came home from work, I went directly to bed. I did get up later, but never with the kind of focus I needed to be able to write a blog post (well, not one that would have been coherent, anyway), so here is my Wednesday post on Thursday.

I’ve mentioned my interest in nonfiction before, but I’ve also become interested in writing fiction too. It doesn’t come easily, writing fiction, so I am a great admirer of those who can write it “easily.” I put “easily” in quotes because I know that writing well doesn’t come easily to anyone—an author has to work at it. But of course some people have a knack for writing fiction, and some, like me, have some really great ideas that, because they have the attention span and stamina of a gnat, rarely get explored in a long form like fiction. Oh sure, there’s always flash, and I do have some ability to write flash because it’s short, and it has a kind of poetic aesthetic which I can get behind. But I want to write “real” short stories.

I have a number of partially completed stories that I’ve written in the last few weeks. The problem is, I can’t get past the “partially.” This is my fiction writing process:

  1. I have a great idea.
  2. I begin to write the great idea.
  3. I write myself into a hole (or into boredom).
  4. I wish, fervently, for a tornado, or earthquake, or angel or other Act of God to happen to get my characters out of the hole I’ve dug.
  5. I know deus ex machinas are cheesy and horrible, and reject any Act of God that occurs to me as being the last desperate attempt of a failed fiction writer.
  6. I give up on the story.

You see? It’s hopeless. And what I really don’t understand is that conventional wisdom says, “Read voraciously in the genre you want to write and you will be able to write it.” I do this! I read mysteries, literary fiction, romance fiction, YA, monster/ fantasy stories. I read a lot of fiction (as well as nonfiction and poetry, of course—and drama). I don’t understand how come I can’t translate all this great modeling being done by the fiction authors I read into fiction of my own.

Conventional wisdom also says “Go with your strengths.” But maybe whoever came up with that bit of conventional wisdom was some bozo who wants us to stay with what we know so we won’t encroach on their areas of expertise! It’s possible.

Or it’s possible that the idea of going with our strengths (writing what we know?) is to keep us from banging our heads against the wall. Believe me, I’ve felt like doing some head-banging lately—and not of the metal concert variety. I have written these partial stories, and I just know that if I could finish them, they’d be cool. But where do I get that impetus to finish? Or perhaps a better question is, “Is there anything beyond the initial cool idea rattling around in my brain?” (Sometimes, I doubt it.)

Certainly it’s a matter of training—my creative writing background consists entirely of poetry and poetry classes. (I wonder if there’s a Remedial Story Writing 101 class I could take?) But I want to write beyond that—and to write in a sustained way. I just don’t know how to do it, and it’s so frustrating to come up against limitations that I don’t even know why I have them. How hard can it be to write a story? Why does it have to feel excruciating? Why does my brain have to come up with these ideas that I clearly can’t develop beyond a few pages? It seems so unfair. And pointless.

And so I suppose I’m going to continue banging my head against the wall, writing these partial stories until SOME DAY I get the message from outer space or wherever that lets me actually finish one. Or maybe I’m just destined to be a failed fiction writer. But somehow, I can’t accept that.

Well, not yet, anyway.

(Fiction writers:  how do you do it????)

2 thoughts on “Headus Injurius, Or, Why Can’t I Write Fiction Too?

  1. Try some fiction exercises. There’s no pressure to finish, just attempt prose techniques and have fun with it. Most only ask you to write 3-5 pages around a prompt. I recommend the 3AM Epiphany by Brian Kiteley, it’s one of the most comprehensive collections of fiction prompts I’ve ever read.

  2. I know the feeling of having partially completed projects. Is your “inner bullshit meter” set too high while you’re in the middle of writing? I like Peter’s suggestion of 3AM Epiphany.

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