Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Influences, good and bad.
I’ve had some good influences and some bad influences. Ignoring my personal life, let’s focus on the literary. While a person might be perfectly content to write genre fiction, and might even make a living at it, deep in every writer’s heart is that hankering—that yearning. There is an irrational idea that we might actually be a great writer, in the greater context, or even historically important. We might have greatness within us, and you don’t just throw that remark around lightly at a cocktail party. Everyone who reads this has some ideas on the sort of names that might make that list.
Somehow ours never makes it on there!
(This whole question arose when I (or we, -ed.) asked myself whether Liebnitz, or Grotius, or Pascal could be said to have written fiction or non-fiction.)
To list even a few of my good and bad influences would be unwieldy and boring. What is important is that they go together. They are part of the whole.
Without both kinds of influences I wouldn’t be the person I am today, neither would I be the writer I am today. Sometimes we arrive at a place in life, or even just in our heads, without even realizing that a journey has taken place.
It’s also important to realize that we might have a bad influence but resist its temptations or allure, and we might have good influences and resist them too. It is that inner conflict that we write about. While we don’t necessarily want to sit down with a priest, psychiatrist or a police officer and confess to every temptation we ever had in our lives, it’s pretty good grist for the writing mill. Now we have something to talk about.
Yet neither do we want to brag about how all the wonderful influences mean so much to us, or ‘how it worked so well,’ the fact is we all have inner conflicts that we balance somehow in our everyday lives, which aren’t always smooth sailing or easy to manage. We have our strengths and weaknesses.
In some ways I envy the twenty-somethings, who already have a book or two out there, and they still have their whole lives ahead of them. They could get a lot done. If they play their cards right, sooner or later they will be able to make a living at it. It takes persistence, and time above all else.
I never completed my first manuscript, what a loaded word, until I was about forty-four years old. I wrote a lot of crap before that, and had started a novel at least three or four times, and I recall a couple of attempts at non-fiction. Last July when I moved, I took all of that stuff out behind the garage and burned it. I’ve written a fair amount of crap since, too.
It says something about my influences that I have certain artistic goals for the work. It’s not a plan, or an ambition. It’s a desire, or hope, or a dream. This dream would be to write something lasting, something imeless. We all could write a quick list of those sort of books. These are books that say virtually nothing about their own time and place. They are the sort of books that someone could open up in twenty-five years, or fifty years, or a hundred years, and they could still get the book. They would be able to read it comfortably, and understand it fully, and the plot, the theme, the characters, and the message, would still be coherent to them. They would enjoy reading it, and still get something out of it.
Nothing worthwhile was ever gained without suffereing. Sacrifices must be made. You have to give up soemthing in order to get something. You get out of it what you put into it. It's just that simple.
My entire life has changed, and that alone is its own reward. And we will write what we shall write.
It doesn’t have to be Gulliver’s Travels, or Treasure Island, to stand the test of time. It merely has to be enjoyed by some reader far off in the future. It would be cherished, the sort of book that a person keeps around, and might read again, and even look forward to reading it again, assuming you get cold winters and long dark nights where you are.
Most of us never achieve this goal, but those influences are strong, and there’s no harm in giving it a shot. Because you never know until you try. Rather than take ourselves just a little too seriously, it is best to point out that all I ever really wanted was to write pulp fiction, and to be a writer.
It would appear that we are doing exactly what we said we would do, all those long years ago.