Friday, January 30, 2009

Anything worth doing is easy

Here's a great excerpt from Po Bronson's What Should I Do With My Life?, republished on I'm always thrilled when successful writers' trajectories are similar to mine (except I have yet to experience the "successful" part in any major way). I definitely relate to Bronson's sense, before his first book was published, of not writing the way I'm supposed to write. Until recently I felt like my deepest instincts on both subject matter and my voice--not separate entities, after all--were not artistically serious. Minimalism, childhood experience, and travel stories still seem to dominate the literary market, making other modes, such as humor or satire, and stories set in the workplace, seem like fluff. I do write from the point of view of children sometimes, and a couple of those stories have been published. But I'm not very interested in actual childhood experiences, only in the off-kilter, naive viewpoint, which can, I've come to realize, be created just as well through a goofball adult. In fact I currently prefer the goofball adult, since that presents interesting choices about what that adult (sometimes not a real character, but just a narrator persona) has decided to know and not know about the world. I can make these narrators wilfully blind to something a regular adult would understand implicitly. With children, I feel more constrained by what a real child could actually understand and say at that age. Come to think of it, though, there's no reason for this constraint, since I'm chucking realism over the side anyway. Why not have a four-year-old narrator who speaks like a college professor? Hmm.

Anyway, I found it reassuring to read about Bronson's struggles to defend his breakthrough story. He realized it was a breakthrough long before most other people saw it that way. He was repeatedly advised to dump it, because it was so different from everything else he had done. But it was his experience in writing it, the pure joy and the surprising lack of exhaustion and struggle, that told him he was on the right track. And I've found this to be true: the stories, or parts of stories, that I've really had to wrestle with have ultimately turned out not to be very good. The stuff that comes easily, that makes me laugh and lets me write for hours on end without constantly backtracking and tweaking, with no need for food or coffee (until after I finally stop, when I stand up and see spots)--that's the stuff that I ultimately believe in. It also provokes the strongest reactions in others, I've realized--both love and hate, but no middle ground.

In other words, one always hears that anything worth doing is hard. But when it comes to writing fiction, what's most worth doing might be what's easy.

No comments: