Better writing

Last night, I sat in an airplane and wondered how I could be a better writer.

The golden glow of the reading lights filled the plane’s interior, and every few seats, someone had left their window open. California moved beneath me in a half-seen, half-suggested pattern of black earth and ribbons of sparkling light. Everything was glazed with that peculiar sheen that comes from too little sleep and too many emotions. World Fantasy had filled my head with dozens of books I wanted to read, hours of good advice, and the feeling, nagging and unkind, that I could and should and must be and do more. There was no way to keep reading the book of essays that lay on my lap. How the hell could I be a better writer?

And more importantly, what did that even mean? For me, what could that mean? Or for the editors who buy our stories? Or the groups that give out industry awards? What makes fiction good and how we do we find the tools to create it?

What does better writing mean to you?

Neil Gaiman says that fictions are the lies we tell that are true. Perhaps the best and only thing I can try is to seek the truth. It is out there, hidden beneath the pattern of dark and light, silent and invisible. There is no way to see or speak it except obliquely. You come by the truth by sailing around the world from the opposite direction, and this is why a book about zombies can hint at the truth, or a book about a girl who will not replace her eyes with buttons.

The truth is out there, and it is our job, our obligation, our only hope to make its portrait using just letters, punctuation and snippets of our own souls.

My punctuation is fine. It’s my soul I’m worried will never be good enough.

Trackback URL

  1. Harry Markov
    01/11/2011 at 8:07 am Permalink

    Wendy, I’m tempted to fly to the US and bitch-slap you for saying ’emo’ stuff like that. I’m pretty certain that your soul is good enough. Your intentions are good enough and the work that you do in the community and for the community speaks for itself. I think that what you mean by a better writer is a published writer with paid credentials, which never should be a criteria. 

  2. Wendy N Wagner
    01/11/2011 at 9:17 am Permalink

    Oh, no, no, no! I AM a published writer. I HAVE paid credentials. And if I keep plugging away–even if I get no better in my entire life–I have reached a facility with the process that will keep me being published & paid. What I’m asking is: What are the metrics and indexes that we can use to measure our advances once we’ve reached this point? And what are the personal qualities (clearly, soul is a stupid word, I shouldn’t have used it, pardon the irritating vagueness of morning poetry) that a writer needs to keep growing and becoming more meaningful?
    This isn’t emo. This is real wondering!

  3. Harry Markov
    01/11/2011 at 11:25 am Permalink

    Ah, Ok. I misunderstood the intention then. I know that you are published and your other credentials, so this is why I was so surprised. Anyway, the last line relies a bit of self-doubt, which I never liked in writers. We must have faith in your dreams and the capability to grow. This is why I love manga and anime. It brainwashes you into idiotic optimism.

    BTW, the fact that you are questioning your growth is a sign that you are seeking improvement and those who seek with sincerity usually succeed in finding. If you still wonder, sit down and read or watch Bakuman. It will do wonders.

  4. Nicole
    01/11/2011 at 10:43 am Permalink

    Truth and Beauty!

    My thoughts have been in the same place, and your post called to mind the anecdote about finding the right balance of sodomy and dinosaurs, as recounted by Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Easier said than done, I suppose, but I find this topic really thought provoking.

    Great post, thanks for sharing.

  5. Matthew Sanborn Smith
    01/11/2011 at 4:54 pm Permalink

    If you find out how to do it, let me in on it. I’ve wondered this for decades and don’t really know. For lack of this wisdom, I just keep reading and writing, keep my head down and push forward, hoping.

  6. Mason Bundschuh
    03/11/2011 at 12:52 am Permalink

    Wendy, deep musings.
    It’s something isn’t it, trying to dig and stretch to make the spark within us transparent. How we must fight against entropy, against banality and trite unthinking purging of words to expose the knifeblade of truth.

    whoa. I just got all metaphoric and stuff for a second there.

    In a nutshell I wanted to say “yeah, I feel that too.”