The first time I decided I was going to write a novel, I was sixteen years old. My family had just been told we needed to move house (and state) for the third time in twelve months. (Military brat, right here.) With a month left in our current location, and a non-standardised school system across the country, I decided to drop out of school until we moved, and write a book.
Every day, I’d see my siblings off to school and sit down at my (C64) computer, and write. Page after page of prose flew from my fingertips. Sure, it was terrible prose. And yes, my story was packed with more ’80s fantasy cliches than a mysterious traveller has secrets. But it was my story. And I was revelling in every hackneyed trope.
At some point, I learned what I was doing, and that first, stuttering masterpiece was discarded, left on a write-protected 5 1/4″ disk until it melted in the heat. But I’ve never forgotten that feeling of losing myself in the story with complete and utter ignorance as to what I was doing.
That feeling of freedom.
Raymond Chandler said: “Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say.”
Now, I don’t know that that’s exactly true, but I certainly know how it feels to be so overwhelmed by Exciting New Knowledge that it seems impossible to put pen to paper. (Or fingers to keyboard. Or whatever.) I felt like that after attending the UnCon in November last year. I’m probably not the only one. It took me a couple of months before I was ready to take all my new learnings and put them into my work.[pullquote]Learning the art and craft of writing is a bit like exploring an ancient and mysterious mansion.[/pullquote]
Learning the art and craft of writing is a bit like exploring an ancient and mysterious mansion. When you first walk through the front door, you’re overwhelmed by the majesty of the place. You touch the relics, and explore the room, marvelling at the wonder of simpy being there. You write your first book — or part-thereof — and you’re sure it’s a masterpiece.
And then you realise there’s another door. You peer through the keyhole… It’s full of wonderful new things! Through the keyhole, you learn just enough to know that you haven’t even come close to scratching the surface of your understanding. And when you finally walk through the door, you realise how poor and shabby the last room was in comparison. If only you’d known this room existed before! If only you’d touched all these relics, and truly understood how much there was to experience; to understand. You look back at the previous room with disdain, and throw your first book into the fire of your experience.
But just as you get comfortable, just as you’ve finished making yourself at home, you realise there’s another door; another keyhole.
It’s easy to get so caught up in exploring the mansion, in opening door after door, that you forget to stop and enjoy the room you’re in. You forget the freedom you felt when you entered that first room. You get so caught up in exploring the rooms, that you forget why you’re there. I’ve heard it in the voices of people who can talk about every writing trick, trap, and pitfall, but haven’t written a word of their own in years.
Perhaps that is what Chandler was talking about. Or perhaps not. Either way, what I’ve learned is two-fold. (1) There is always more to learn; always more keyholes to peer through; always more doors to open, and (2) Sometimes, especially when you’re writing something new, you need to take a break, stop opening doors, and revel in the room you’re in.
Look how far you’ve come. Look at how many rooms you’ve already explored. Look at the treasures you’ve accumulated on your journey. Lose yourself in that feeling of freedom that can come only with writing the story of your heart, without censor, without self-criticism, and in ignorance of what you don’t (yet) know.
There will be time to edit your work later; time to explore the writing mansion further; time to look back on your current efforts and realise how little you knew. But as some self-help guru probably said at some unappointed time: “Enjoy the journey.”
2015 WU Flash Fiction Contest, Round 2