Zen in the Art of Writing.

So, things have been quiet recently. Quieter, anyway. I have a couple of stories coming up in the next issue of The Eildon Tree, but that’s it. Mainly I’ve been working on redrafts for the plethora of deadlines coming up at the end of the month. It’s reminded me of Ray Bradbury in ‘Zen in the Art of Writing’, and his insistence on zest and gusto in the writing process.

On one hand, it seems fairly obvious, doesn’t it, that if you’re not enjoying writing it, no-one else is going to enjoy reading it. If you don’t actually like what you’re working on, why are you doing it? That much is straightforward.

But as against that, there’s the whole Wordsworthy thing about poetry being emotion recollected in tranquillity. Most of the early blunders of writing come from excessive enthusiasm/optimism about a project blinding you to its faults. What you’re initially aiming for (or I was, anyway) was a certain level of detachment from the act of writing, to not feel as if the whole process was life or death. Once I got to the stage where I could just write without self-romanticising, I was able to just scribble away for hours on end and not worry about it. Life, it seemed, was good.

I suppose what I’m saying is that no matter how you go about it, some writing is just dead on the page. It’d be easy to say that it’s because of too much zeal or too little gusto, but it’s simply a fact of business. I can work away for several drafts on what seems like a nice little story with some nice little characters and some nice little ideas, then read it and realise straight away that it’s boring. Not bad, not silly, not self-indulgent, just boring.

It happened to me just the other day while I was redrafting. After working my way through to the terrifically unsatisfying stopgap ending, I realised that I couldn’t think of a better ending because I simply didn’t care about the characters or what happened to them. All the endings I could come up with were perfectly acceptable, but I couldn’t write them because they didn’t matter to me. None of it did.

You’ve got to write through the bad stories to get to the good ones, I already knew that. I guess I never thought there’d be a stage where I was writing through the mediocre stories too.