Monday, August 11, 2008

Two Kinds of Springs, part 2: Fiction

I realized, as I thought about these different kinds of springs for my writing, that most of the novel-length fiction ideas I've had going have generated primarily out of thoughts and reflections rather than the need to express an emotional experience. There's nothing wrong with that--I think they're excellent projects and I'm excited to be working on them, and they always help me process emotions as I'm going along. But there are a few consequences of this insight for my recent situation:
  1. Fictional projects starting from thoughts need more simmering time while I work my way into understanding the emotional territory they occupy.

    Sometimes the emotional territory is, as is the case with one of the thought-motivated novels I'm working on, emotional territory that's painful for me to enter, and so it's good that my reflections have led me there, but sometimes the simmering time is all the more necessary so that I can enter that territory gradually, over years if necessary.

    At other times, the emotional territory and the culture these projects occupy is simply one that is foreign to me, and maybe involves a lot of getting inside the heads of people who simply are part of cultures or lifestyles I haven't been exposed to enough to write them immediately. This is good, as it requires me to empathize with those unlike myself, which is a good spiritual discipline. But it requires a lot of both research and simmering so that I don't feel like I've colonized these people whose motivations I don't understand. This leads to the second insight:

  2. Thought/reflection fiction projects don't always mesh well with a lot of academic work. Not only do these kind of fiction projects require a lot of time for research when my academic projects also require a lot of time for research, the fact that they start from reflections can make them feel a bit too similar to everything else I'm doing. I love doing the research for them, and their subject matter would form great academic papers as well, usually, but the fact that they're projects whose emotional territory takes a lot of time to imagine my way into means that if I move past the research stage into the writing stage, they can suck up a lot of the time I should honestly be putting into other things.

  3. As a result, I should be spending time, during the school year, writing fiction during the school year of the other type: that which flows out of emotions and situations I'm dealing with. I have a huge fear of writing fiction that's thinly veiled autobiography, but that's not what this means. Mostly what it means is allowing space for fiction projects to emerge that have been simmering within me without my head knowing about it.

    Case in point: a day or so after I told the whiny voice of my current fiction projects to sit in a corner, I sat down and sketched out the beginning of this story with academic characters, in a department different than the ones I'm in, but with whose emotional territory I'm immersed in on a day in, day out basis. This project is the perfect kind of project to work on during the school year--it won't take long to slide in and out of because well, the characters' emotions are familiar to me. In fact, I'm probably experiencing them on a daily basis, and turning them into art will help me to deal with them.

    Not only that, but it will give me motivation to make it through the parts of my academic life I don't like. When something I'm going through becomes dull, worrisome, painful, or whatever, I can see that as material my characters might also experience. And that will transform the very emotions that usually trap me and sap my essay-writing energy into treasured possessions, bits of hard-won "research" that will enrich the fictional story I'm working on. All of which will make my life significantly more enjoyable.
Well, I'm glad I figured that out. Art really is an odd and wonderful thing, isn't it?

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