I've been rather slack of late as far as this blog goes. There are friends of mine that check it regularly and to them I can only apologise. The little time I have for writing has been focussed elsewhere.
I've done two book reviews for them this week alone, though only one has gone live so far, and also managed to get an interview with Michael Marks, SF author extraordinaire, done and dusted. His answers to my questions really blew me away, so go and take a look. If you have a Kindle I can't recommend his new novel Dominant Species highly enough as my earlier review on this very blog made clear.
And now to the reason that I started this post in the first place. I was reading Wil Wheaton's blog the other day and in the midst of a really great post he said something that really sparked off a train of thought. He was talking about how Twitter had changed his world and allowed him to reach so many people in a way that would otherwise be impossible. I couldn't agree more, however, the point he made that really hit home was this:
"...I am compelled to create. I've tried to fight it - it's not the easiest life in the world, especially when you're responsible for a family - but I can't deny that I'm an artist any more than I can deny that I'm a human being. Most artists will tell you quite honestly that they would create their art for free. I know from personal experience that that is absolutely true." (emphasis added)
I thought about the work I do for BSC review and wondered, are book reviews art? I'll come back to that point but I then thought about the story I'm (slowly) working on and the strong creative streak that has always been a part of me. In one form or another I also feel compelled to create, or put another way, express myself creatively. No, that isn't just pedantics. I think that my creativity is always a communication of sorts. A way of reaching out and 'speaking' to people. Whether in the form of a tale I've crafted or a review in which I share my thoughts about a book I've read. This may well be the case for others but I can only speak for myself.
When I told friends and family that I'd been asked to write reviews for a great website the almost universal response was, "are you being paid?". Wow, did that take the wind out of my sails. It seemed that the only measure of my work was whether or not I was being paid. I know that what I'm about to say may sound very naive but before my friends mentioned it I hadn't thought of money at all. I thought, hey what a great opportunity to share with others my thoughts and feelings about the books I'm reading! I love reading, I love books and on bsc review I get to express that love in a creative and hopefully entertaining way. Yes, I think reviews can be an artform in themselves.
I have no illusions, it's a parasitic artform in that it is based upon the blood, sweat and tears of an author that has often worked for months or years on the book I'm reviewing. And yet, his or her work has moved me and I want to share why. To distill into words my experience of their hard work. Now, that's all very well when the review is positive. However, what about those times that I pick up a book hoping for a decent story and have those hopes dashed when it doesn't prove to be what I'd expected? I don't mean that the story wasn't what I thought it was when I picked the book up. To give a bad review in those circumstances is really not right. I mean that the writing, story and/or characters really fail on some level. Figuring out why a story doesn't work for me is harder than working out why I love a story. In those instances I feel obligated to make as clear as possible exactly what didn't work for me so that, should the author come across my review, they might take some useful feedback from it rather than a 'you suck' message that is neither entertaining nor useful...
...The truth is that I'm avoiding saying something that's on my mind. It's a little truth that struck me during the week. Writing reviews, while both enjoyable and potentially creative, is also the laziest form of creative expression available to me. It is harder to come up with an interesting blog post and much much harder to drive my story forward. When the inspiration for the post you're reading struck, it was the first time for a while that I'd been able to come up with anything and I quickly wrote down some thoughts in the notebook I've taken to carrying everywhere with me. If you make a living writing you can't afford to wait for the inspiration to strike, you have to damn well find it, pin it down and get to work.
While talking about the story I am writing with my therapist it soon became clear just how many personal themes were there at its core. My protagonist finds himself suddenly alone in enemy territory and slowly realises that his bravery and skills in combat are all in the context of the other troopers around him. It is only in relationship to them that he is the person he knows and respects. In effect the story is about learning some of the strength to be found in solitude though ironically this is learnt from another very different warrior and so in the final analysis is still about relationship and how we only exist as human beings within relationships even when we feel alone. Writing this story is intensely personal which makes it bloody hard work to push forward with. Is this the case for other writers? When they take a deeper look at their work do they become aware of their own issues expressed in their writing? Is that part of the challenge and will it get easier?
Well, one question I can answer. Yes, it does get easier but I don't believe it ever gets easy. In fact if it did I suspect it would cease to interest me. The second part of the story flowed far better and faster than the first part. Though there are certainly personal themes present it would be a mistake to let them swallow the story whole. Those themes must guide what is effectively a war story about very different styles of warrior coming together in desperate circumstances but the personal stuff cannot be allowed to overwhelm it, the background cannot become the foreground.
I'm starting to worry that I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this story. The longer I leave it as a work-in-progress the more it grows in my mind which only makes it harder to get down to business when I have some time. This then means that I'm more inclined to write another review rather than wrestling with myself to write the story. I'm hoping that talking about this out loud will help me get on with it by making clear to me what it is I'm avoiding.
When I do get down to writing the story, I enjoy it and yet also really struggle with it. As far as I'm concerned that only serves to highlight how meaningful the process is and therefore how much more I must devote myself to it. I hope I can get moving again. I think I will feel a tremendous and very real sense of achievement if I can get the story finished to a standard I can live with...my perfectionist streak means I can't be 'happy' with it.
Writing for fun and no profit is deeply meaningful to me. I agree with Wil when he says that most of the artists he knows would happily do their thing for free, I'm also happy to do it for free.
Why? I think it's because, for me, writing is its own reward.