Saturday, January 10, 2009

O Where Has My Fictitiousness Gone?

Virginia Woolf called her fiction writing mind the "fictitious mind." Sounds funny, almost derogatory.

She had her essay writing mode as well. This critical mind tended to dominate, because she loved to work, and because there is always something worth reading and then writing on. But Woolf also got stuck in essay-voice because fiction doesn't present itself as easily as an essay topic.

I am in a similar fiction drought to the one faced by Woolf after publishing her first book of essays. While I have never published any book of essays, I have spent the last year on them. Besides one short story and several finished poems, all composed in the early spring for a creative writing course, I have not produced anything fictitious.

My writer's group is starting to fear my stack of stapled papers. The women eye it at a slant before I begin passing, looking for indents where dialog might sit, or varied paragraph lengths that might indicate description and exposition rather than topic sentence, supporting sentences, topic sentence, supporting sentences . . . not that I write essays that way. But the essays fill the paper to the margins and spill rambling paragraphs over two or three pages. They tend to look rather square on the page when contrasted with the jagged right edge of a short story. And before the women can scan the first lines and find out how they will spend their next twenty minutes, my mouth invariably opens to give a disclaimer: "Sorry for my essays . . .again."

I blame my newfound (well, my year-old) intellectualism. It's a return to a passion for knowledge I had as a teen. And it's especially overwhelming in its intensity because I feel I threw away much of my spongy-brained twenties not absorbing anything of value. As I near thirty, I am afraid I won't learn.

By contrast, my creativity, since adulthood, has only has brief setbacks. It would be a shame, now, to let the return of philosophical thinking, rampant literary theorizing and avaricious hoarding of classical books eclipse my eternally fictitious mind!

But you can't force a story, or even a scene. I forced some poems last semester, only because I didn't know what else to do. After a tired morning of studying I wrote one about hot chocolate -- the kind that comes from a machine. Ending line: "One should always be suspicious/Of floral notes in food." Ahem. . .

Next writer's group is in three weeks. I will not bring a disclaimer, because I will not bring an essay. And if I actually begin a story, I'll even bring cookies to celebrate.

1 comment:

  1. The "fictitious mind", hmmm. Does sound a bit intriguing. I wonder if it could fit in along with the id, the ego, and the superego.

    I wonder if critics of the arts tend to be more left-brain or right-brain dominant.

    I'm amazed by individuals like Woolf who can write both essays and fiction. It's a skill that I'm sorry to say I'm sorely lacking. I've never been able to write essays. I can write non-fiction, but even that reads like a story. Heck, even writing these commentaries is rather difficult for me. I'm constantly questioning what I wrote and then going back and changing it. But it's good practice and prevents me from getting bogged down in one form of writing.

    You shouldn't apologize for your essays. That's the format you feel most comfortable in. The fact that you can write short stories and poetry is already a huge step up from a lot of writers today, most of whom couldn't string together two proper sentences if their life depended on it.

    It's interesting that you bring up a thirst for knowledge. Any good writer that I've read has displayed a curiosity about the world from a very young age. This curiosity never leaves them. I think that's the major thing that's lacking from hack writers: simple curiosity and the desire to acquire knowledge.

    My mentor and I discussed the curse of the writer last week, that is, the fear of never accomplishing anything and of being untalented. It's a rational fear, if ever there was such a thing. The trick is not letting it slow you down.

    See, you've still got plenty of creativity! Anything you read, learn, or "hoard" will go into whatever fiction you write, even if you don't realize it.

    Heehee, no, never try to force any kind of fiction. I've also tried that a couple times and it never results in anything good. In my case, it usually means a whole lot of empty poorly written dialogue.

    I'm looking forward to meeting your writer's group, though I will admit that I'm a tad nervous. But it sounds too wonderful to resist :-)


I publish all the comments, the good, the bad and the ugly. Unless I have no idea what you're saying. If you want to email me (with only good I hope), I'm at rbyrd [at] niu [dot] edu.