On writing aesthetics & process: happiness is not unendingness

I was challenged by my MFA writing mentor with a writing process and personal aesthetics  prompt: when am I happiest with my writing? And when am I unhappiest about it? Well, since I am going to address this on my blog, I need to make it relatable to you the reader. Otherwise, what’s the point of the blog? Talking to myself is not an option. I just assume keep a diary – I mean journal – under my pillow if that was the case. So, let’s start on a negative note.

I am least happy when I’ve written nothing.

I am the most unhappy when I’ve gone through the motions of the writing process and yielded garbage; the times when a part of a story might emerge that I look back and realize it’s been written somewhere sometime before. A text modeled after a cliché. Or a storyline I hate. Or, most despised of all, one with no ending in sight. I equate that to receiving injections of chlorine bleach under my skin. I’ve never had bleach injections, but I have a good imagination rooted in knowing its chemical properties and how it interacts with various materials.

Stories with no end in sight. The (clichéd) bane of my writing existence.  

This is perhaps my biggest challenge. I have written several almost-stories that don’t end. But they’re supposed to end so they can live the lives of mature stories as they were meant to. Perhaps this is why serial novels are so common, those authors must suffer the same affliction. More than likely capitalism is their driver, which is a good thing. Beats holding a day job while writing at night.

These unfortunate stories sit dormant in my “In Progress” folder on my MacBook waiting for their opportunity to shine. When I open the files and read through, I’ll make changes, write new parts, but they just fight closure. Perhaps that’s the point, they aren’t near completion and I’m being absolutely neurotic over a non-issue. Thing is, I’m not neurotic, I’m obsessive, and that throws a whole new complexity into the mix. It’s that obsessiveness that makes me so specific, so tuned-in to detail when I create. Both to my success and my detriment. Happiness and unhappiness.

Then fear rears its ugly face and taunts me.

In thinking about this issue I realized something, I have a fear of commitment in fiction, which is completely unlike me in the real world. I’m not sure where this comes from. There’s an overwhelming sense of foreboding when I consider allowing a character to die or experience some other incapacitating life-altering event, especially as the means to close a story or a major climax. Unless I despise my protagonist and enjoy the sight of a demon exacting the revenge of the protagonist’s victims – see my story “F is for Furcas: Lies Under Skin” in The Demonologia Biblica. Don’t get me wrong, I will do what’s right for the story, it takes me a while to accept the character’s fate to move forward. This fear of ending a story, however, can cripple the story when not careful, and a source of frustration for me.

I have a challenge to accept. And depending on my mood, I might. This is the root of the matter, I think. Amateur psychologists would have a fun time picking my brain about my creative process as I still haven’t figured it out in my nearly forty years of life. It’s a piece of me, creativity defines me. There is no other light to see me in – like a finance guy or a political guy or a construction guy – and that’s not necessarily by my choice. And I have an impossible time seeing myself in those roles in reality, but that completely changes when it comes to writing.

Bringing this full circle.

This little writing journey today, this blog entry you are reading right now, has been a fun one. The self-discovery and sharing hints of my usually secluded self lighten my brooding artist mood. In real life I tend to be private; in writing life, which is another reality for me, I am more open about myself. It’s this ability to be open that probably makes me happiest in my writing. It encourages confidence in my abilities, it inspires new ideas, new creative methods to add to that mysterious creative process that controls me. And sometimes, it gives me the ability to find my way home, to draw conclusions, to progress a plot line, and to end a story. To resolve my unhappiness with a never-ending story. And that is when I find myself thrilled about my writing, that momentary sense of fulfillment until the next story comes along.

On writing aesthetics: brutal intellectual honesty

Last week I finished reading a selection of essays published in 2011 by the late Christopher Hitchens in his book Arguably. I’ve known his word for over a decade and was a fan of his regular TV news show appearances before he fell ill. He brought something to those TV shows and his published works that I found both refreshing and rare amongst the modern day news media: brutal honesty.

I have been a long time advocate of writing honestly in both my professional and creative lives. When a writer holds back emotions, facts, details – anything – it’s blatantly obvious to any reader. Sometimes a reader may not know why something feels inauthentic, but the resulting uneasiness of having spent five or twenty minutes on a piece that feels dishonest is nothing short of time wasted and a lost audience.

Fortunately, I’ve have a good run of reading material lately. I haven’t felt the need to question any author’s honesty in quite some time. There is something unique about reading Hitchens, though, that goes beyond authenticity. I was granted a peak into his posthumous psyche by way of his essays, a much deeper and more intimate experience that I normally encounter. He took controversial stands on sensitive subjects, particularly with religion, like deconstructing the Ten Commandments – of which there are four different versions, I learned. His candid perspectives were well-informed, thorough, and unapologetic. And often laced with wit and humor.

This fawning over Christopher Hitchens’s work doesn’t mean I will devote my personal aesthetic to copying him. I don’t care to to be viewed as a curmudgeon who writes scathing book reviews or regarded by many as a polarizing figure on religion or politics. So let me be clear. Hitchens has been and always will be a personal inspiration in terms of creative and succinct prose, and of brutal intellectual honesty. If there is anything I can emulate in my writing it is this. Along with the ability to piss off people when I know I’m right and the satisfaction that accompanies it.