Two blog posts in two days. Pretty wild, huh?
Yesterday I wrote the first new post since January, about how my New Years Resolutions have more or less been dashed but that a greater goal has emerged: completing my first novel in 2014. It appears to be doable. I calculated how many words I think it will take to come up with 16 different endings to the story (it being a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style book for adults), and it’s looking like at the current rate I would only need to write about 280 words per day to complete the book by the last day of the year. But I’m hoping it doesn’t actually come down to the wire like that.
Coming up with this project, along with being on a Stephen King kick in advance of my trip to New England this summer (which will include a Stephen King tour in Bangor, Maine on this awesome van), had inspired me to think about what kind of books are worth reading and writing.
I never totally lost my love of King and other commercial fiction, but I think in college my English classes trained me to believe that if it was commercially viable and came in a thick paperback you could buy in a drug store, it was probably not valuable or literary. The tension in my head between my appreciation for “commercial fiction” versus “literary fiction” has been a huge negative for my creativity.
Since college I have been trying to conceive of myself as the Next Young Literary Author, and have been trying to figure out how to get there, because that’s what we were taught to want. In reading King, though, particularly IT where the kind of fiction that comes out of creative writing college courses is lampooned by the character of Stuttering Bill Denbrough, I’ve had a revelation that attempting to be literary is an absurdity. You should just write, and what comes out comes out. If it’s a good story, it probably has interesting sociocultural elements that could be discussed, if you wanted to discuss them — but your job as an author is not to try to inject significance into your story. Trying to keep lofty literary pretensions in mind while writing is a recipe for failure.
Writing for the joy of writing a good story should be — and is — enough.
Taking creative writing classes in college has improved my writing through the process of learning to workshop and revise, and to think critically about storytelling. And the English classes I took broadened my mind to so much literature I would never have known otherwise. But as I wrote to one of my friends in a Facebook comment, I’ve let my outlook be dictated too much by stuffy college professors whose joy is not in storytelling or crafting words beautifully but in dissecting books like dead pigs and inspecting them for their messages about Marxism, post-colonialism, and feminism like those were the heart, liver, and intestines.
People (and things I’ve read) have been telling me this forever — that “literary” is more a label than a truth — but it took some serious contemplation on my part for it to sink in.
Am I hoping that whatever I write will be appreciated by scholars? Sure. I’d love nothing more than for Brandt to be one of the last names of American masters they bring up along with Faulkner and Hemingway. But I know that it’s not anywhere near likely to happen, and anyway you don’t become Faulkner or Hemingway by second-guessing yourself every step of the way.
And for what it’s worth, I believe Stephen King’s novels should be considered literary fiction. At last all the ones I’ve read, minus The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, which was annoying and lame.