Wednesday, 24 November 2010
TO CRY, OR NOT TO CRY?
Today, I have been crying. Not wailing, sobbing, or beating my breast, mind you. A few dignified tears slipping down the cheeks, and the odd sniff. That sort of thing. But fear not. Nothing bad has happened to your favourite author (second favourite? Third? Fine, an author you might have heard of once, maybe). I've just been re-writing some emotional scenes in FF.
I quite often get a little het up when I'm writing. I don't set out to do it. I'll just be reading some dialogue out loud to myself and suddenly there's a catch in my throat. Or maybe there's no dialogue, and I'm working hard to capture a certain, intense moment in a character's life, and suddenly PLOP, there's a tear there on the page. There have definitely been times when I've finished my day's work with swollen nose and eyes, and headed straight for the chocolate stash. Shadows on the Moon was probably my weepiest work - but TSK and DotF had their moments too. FF is coming out somewhere near Shadows, but I haven't finished revising yet. It may get worse (O Joy).
Since I've always been this way it never occurred to me to question it, and I probably assumed that most other authors were the same way (whether they admitted it or not) up until recently. I remember reading a quote once that said 'No tears in the author, no tears in the reader' and thinking: Well, I've got that covered anyway.
But it turns out there are some authors who scorn this kind of rampant emotionalism, and who say that it's all just silliness and getting carried away. Do carpenters weep over their dovetail joints, these writers ask? Does an engineer get emotional when applying his wrench? No! Writing, they say, is a craft, like any other, and in order to use the tools of craft correctly one must maintain a proper emotional distance and realise that IT'S ALL JUST FICTION ANYWAY FOR CRISSAKES!!!
And hey, before we start badmouthing these guys - we're talking Maggie Stiefvater, Meg Cabot and Veronica Roth here. People whose success and opinions need to be respected. I do respect them.
I'm not just not sure I really agree.
Of course I can see, logically, where writers who say things like this are coming from. Anyone who feels the way they do is absolutely right - when it comes to their own work. But it seems a little prescriptive to be implying that people who do get very emotionally involved with their characters are just being silly. Writers, like all people, are famously individual. One writer's block is another writer's inspiration.
Yes, writing is a craft. A craft like carpentry or engineering. It has its own tools and it can be learned and improved with practise. But it's also an art (I'm not being pretentious here, because I think anything, really anything, can be an art if you love it and do your absolute best with it and believe in it). And contrary to common belief, the stuff of a writer's art is not words. Words are the medium. Just like a glassblower uses glass as a medium in which to capture light, so a writer uses words as a medium to capture emotion.
That's what being a writer is all about, right? Whether we want to make people laugh, or get angry, or feel sad, or happy, the important thing is that they feel. We create characters and stories and worlds with the specific intention of influencing a reader's feelings, of changing the way they feel right in this minute with our story. A writer of fiction wants to engage reader's emotions - and sometimes, some of us need to invest our own to get that. If I can't believe in a character enough to forget, now and then, that they're not real, then I don't think my readers will ever feel my characters are real at all.
On the other hand, fairly recently a very successful author Who Shall Not Be Named (*cough*LaurellKHamilton*cough*) annoyed and amused a lot of authors, including me, by putting out a blog post where she claimed that writing her novels was so emotionally painful for her that it resembled being dismembered, and that she was bleeding on her keyboard. Which. You know. Euw. And her major point seemed to be that anyone who doesn't feel this way is a BIG FAT SELLOUT FAKE and NOT A REAL WRITER.
Eeep. Pretty sure I don't agree there either. Any activity which causes me such intense pain that I feel like I'm bleeding all over the place isn't for me. Isn't writing supposed to be fun? Yes, it's hard work. Yes, it's emotionally draining at times. Yes, it can also be frustrating and (let's not forget) BADLY PAID. But if you hate it so much that it hurts you, for Sweet Baby Jesus's sake stop it. Whether you're doing yoga, competitive tap-dancing or ecologically-friendly beaver wresting, there is a difference between 'good pain' (muscles working, feel the burn) and bad pain (oh my god make it stop making it stop owwwwww!). We writers might like to pretend that we're all eccentric oddballs for laughs sometimes, but this level of angst is bordering on some kind of personality disorder.
I guess what I'm trying to say here is: there are a lot of people in the world who will be telling you This Is How To Be A Writer. Some of them will say things that seem dead on. Others will apparently be talking some strange crazy language that sounds like a penguin gacking up its breakfast. Take what you find useful and move on, and, ultimately, do what works for you and makes you want to write more.
Because no one likes Mr Judgy-Writer-Pants.