Why You Should Never Write Fiction ----- A Fiction
You know how when you see an amazing gamer consistently pull off an impossible trick, and then you move closer and ask, how do you pull off this move? How do you pull off that trick? And they answer you, nonplussed, that they don't know, but that when they hold that controller, well, everything just sort itself out--kinda like getting under the influence of something higher than themselves?
See that's how writing is for me. I've won five highly rated international writing competitions; my editor and I are currently working on my debut novel. The problem, however, is that she had read it and loved it, but, she said, a lot remains to be done in terms of revision. She was going to do an extensive edit and get back to me.
Well a month ago she did, and I must admit, I was definitely not prepared for the edit to be that extensive. My feelings got hurt a bit. But I'm a professional. I could handle criticism, or rather I convinced myself I could, and I did. I got to work on the revision--and it was then; the very first time I realized, writing was difficult for me.
Yesterday I got an email from Jane, my editor, asking to talk. Later at night she called. The novel stunk! I most definitely made it worse. It was obvious I didn't put any effort into it. She was disappointed and if I didn't pull my shit together, I'd be dropped for certain.
I received her call leaning on a poll outside my house, because the reception inside was terrible. After she cut the call I remained there, fixated with my back on the poll, and my hand on my rather large shirt pocket. The air became treacherous and my head rung with the sombre titillation of a cathedral bell, I found my hand maniacally tapping my shirt pocket. My hand did it. I didn't do it at all.
The novel had been my get-out-of-hell-free card, you see, but there was no denying I was done. I knew it even before my editor told me. I was done. I had exhausted all my wit and talent. I knew it before
I finished the revision. I knew I was done. I had hoped, though, that it would be enough. Obviously it wasn't. I had failed.
Whenever I read about writers giving advices to other writers, saying do this don't do that, eschew this, do more of that, show don't tell and all that, it never really gets me. I mean I don't necessarily disagree with all that, but I don't exactly agree with them either.
Writing is art. I cherish art. Above all things I cherish art. I'd never seen art as subordinate to life. I see them as one and the same, each nourishing each other. When I think of art and life I think of a tree beside a stream, with cattles grazing and gentle zephyr stroking the verdure, like a mother's hand on her sleeping baby's back. I think of the sound of soft wind as the mother's lullaby.
Art definitely isn't science. When I think of science I think of constraints. I see an officious father with a whip in hand telling his son how this should be done; how there isn't any other way.
While I do understand Father Science, I don't necessarily feel comfortable with him. And so when I hear writers say do this don't do that, eschew adjectives, eschew adverbs; your verbs must drive the narrative, I feel they make a science of art, whereas we ought to make art of science.
I digress, pardon me.
Standing with my back against the pole, unable to digest the acerbity of my failure, my mind went back to my conversation with my father, on the day I told him I wanted to become a writer.
I remembered the sun had just started to set, just as it was at that moment. I remember we sat outside on two stools, his higher than mine.
It was dark and chill but I could see his face, or rather I saw his face as I saw the night--dark and chill. There wasn't a need to distinguish.
Was I afraid? Of course I was. But I wasn't afraid of what he'd say, I was afraid of how he'd say it. He had a way of telling you to not do things in a way that'd make you do them; or telling you to do things in a way that'd make you think twice about doing them.
His sepulchral voice said:
"A writer huh a writer."
He kept quiet, chewing his kola-nut rather too carefully; rather too ominously.
"Yes, father," I said. "a writer."
"But what's a writer do," He said. "What's a writer do but try to give fancy unreal meanings to mere words. Calling dead things living. Making living things dead; transmogrifying them into mere symbols. Mere chicanerists - no, worse, mere tricksters."
I had not expected him to go through the philosophical route. I had never expected him to tergiversate.
"Maybe." I said. "But writing heals. Maybe our living fears, and anxieties and all the living evil in this world has to be transformed into nothing but mere, dead symbols, for us to have any chance at all of healing."
Maybe it was because I could never articulate all those things. When I write I'm never thinking: Alright I have to show this, no I have to tell this; no that's not a weak verb, I need a stronger one; no thats a weak image I need a better one.
Or maybe it's because my mother did it so well. Maybe it's because she wrote critically acclaimed books about Why You Should Never Write Fiction. She even invented her own theory of the perfect character arc--The Maya Lateef Arc Theory--well received too. As for the book, I read it once and I knew, from the very first moment I opened it, I knew it was going to bring me so much pain!
Or maybe it was because it was raining, and even though my back was on a pole under a shed, I knew I had to get to my parents. Not that I wanted to of course, but because I had to. At least to one of them. One of them had a right to know.
It was going to be hell, I knew. The thought of facing either of them, as a failure, was the highest circle of torture. But as scary as it was facing my father, mother was worse. I get the shudder of my life even conceiving of visitng her--knowing I'd failed.
On my way to him I kept tapping my pocket rapidly, while its content made a thuding sound as if mimicking my heart. The rain had ceased, but in such a way that made you know it was only a brief pause. The sky saturated with, and communicating unequivocally, the sombre feel of unfinished business.
I found my father sited on a stool, as expected. Ever since my mother left 15 years ago he'd been sited on that stool. It was not sadness that made him do it, though. He claimed it was boredom. Only mother could entertain him. He had gotten to that point of in life where everything had become vapid.
Why'd she let her go then? I ask myself always.
I brought a stool from the house and sat in front of him. It was just like it was ten years ago when I told him about wanting to become a writer--dark and chilly.
On the way over I'd assumed it would be different, that the night would be darker or drearier, but it wasn't. It was just as it was--dark and chilly.
I said to him after a few seconds of introspective and retrospective glances.
I thought he was getting senile.
"I, father, I failed."
"Yes," He said. "Yes, you failed. But whom. Whom did you fail?"
I said, the uncertainty in my voice as visible as the darkness.
"No. Not yourself. You never did it for yourself. Remember why you did it? What you told me that night."
"I said I did it to heal."
"Well I failed."
I didn't get him at all. But I knew him. I could see his face in the darkness. I could see his face as the darkness--menacing, treacherous, dark and chilly.
"What do you want from me!?
I said. I was quiet. I didn't shout at all. I couldn't shout. I couldn't let mother hear me.
"You think I want your failure? Or that I'm surprised at it? I expected it."
"What do you want from me?"
I said again, shaking my head quietly. I was quiet. I didn't shout at all. I was quiet.
"You never meant to heal!"
He said mockingly, slapping both his thighs with both his hands. He was shouting. I wish he wouldn't, but he shouted. "You never meant to heal or any of that bullshit. If anything - if anything you wrote to feel the burn. To feel the pain more. You wrote--to flagellate yourself. And you succeeded. But you failed also...You failed to prove her wrong."
I wished he'd stop shouting. I really wished he'd stop shouting.
"Stop shouting, dad."
I said. No, I didn't say, I shouted. I oughn't to have shouted. I wish we'd stop shouting.
"What; you're afraid she'd hear you?" He said. "You don't have to be scared. She can't hurt you anymore. "
"She never hurt me!"
I said. I shouted. I shouted, and I wish I'd shouted louder so she could hear how much I loved her.
He wasn't shouting now. Just when I wanted to shout he chose to be quiet and suave. "You've always hated her. Ever since she left."
"Its your fault!"
The rain began to fall again. I could feel the rain downpouring over me. My hand went to my pocket, tapping it, shielding it.
"You still keep it with you," Father said. "It's in your pocket, isn't it? You still take it with you. The symbol of your hate."
I told you he could make you do things, father. My legs stood up. I didn't stand up. My legs stood up, and ran all the way to the backyard. He made my legs run. My hands, both of them clutched my pocket, shielding it. My legs ran to the backyard, to the forest; my legs ran, getting caught in weed, rustling leaves. I fell on a stump but my legs carried me up and they ran; I rustled large trees; I was wet and I heard the crickets chirping but my legs ran still, all the way to the grave.
15 years I'd never once returned. I didn't even know where it was; but my legs found it. I knelt over it. I cried. I cried. My tremulous hands shielded my pocket still, but I seized them; I dipped them inside and I removed it. I removed the book: Why You Should Never Write Fiction by Maya Lateef--my mother.
I removed it and I placed it on her grave. It was soiled by the rain anyway so I mixed my tears with it. "I failed you, mother." I said. I didn't shout it at all. I whispered it. I hoped she wouldn't hear me.