This is the last of the lingering batch of requests, unless I'm forgetting some that came by email. I'm sure if I have you will remind me. Wowsers. It took me almost a month to complete. Sorry about that.
Misspixie wanted me to reflect on my writing style, and what I've learned about it since blogging. I've been thinking about my writing style a lot lately, as I've been having my words edited and commented on by a bunch of people offline. I still don't feel like I know very much about what my writing style is, really. That's a problem, I think. I lack confidence in my own voice. That's not exactly true. Leave it to a post about writing to make me unable to verbalize what I mean.
I think I have a pretty good writing voice. I think on this blog I come across pretty naturally, and I think there's a sense of personality and authenticity and honesty here that's something I'm proud of. I don't have to think about how to say what I'm getting at. I just try to sit down and be brave and put what I see or think or feel into words. I don't do it for the writing -- this isn't a craft exercise, where I'm hyperconscious of sentences or words. I'm not trying to be clever when I blog. I sit down here in order to uncover my thoughts, to capture moments of sensation and experience from my day, and to share them with you. I get self-conscious sometimes writing descriptions of the landscape and details of my days -- the wind on the water, the rough jolt of an outboard motor shifting into reverse, the sweet earthy smell of my dog's ears -- but I think the blog has been good for me as a way of practicing description of everyday things. Writing it for you strangers helps me feel less artificial than it would be to write this in my journal: I know that the things I see and smell and feel every day aren't what surrounds you, so it gives me reason to try to tell you honestly what it looks and tastes like to me. I think writing this weblog and reading other peoples' has loosened me up and made me appreciate the richness that can come from writing faithfully about your own daily experience.
That's okay for here, for this blog and for letters, but when I write something "real" I tend to doubt that that's relevant or allowed. Instead I ape someone else's style. I am revising an article for a magazine and the editor wants me to loosen it up, and write more as though I were writing on this blog. That seems so strange. Isn't a magazine piece "supposed" to be more formal? I get hung up thinking that I am not actually a journalist, that I don't know how to do a magazine article, that surely there are secret rules that I don't know (and, to be honest, that I don't particularly want to learn), and that my amateurism must be hidden at all costs.
By the same token, I feel like a failure when I write a short story and don't sound naturally like Ray Carver. When I try to write like Ray Carver I pull way back -- my description is good and my dialogue is good but there's no emotion, and I am afraid of curiousity or revelations about character's inner lives. That would be cheating. I make up all kinds of restrictive rules for myself. It's because I don't trust my own voice to write short stories yet, so I am very strict about what I allow and what I don't. I think it's also because I am not sure how to write well without writing personally. And since short stories are supposed to be fiction, I have to pull myself out of the story, and when I do that I don't know how to put true feeling back in it. Yet. I don't know that yet.
I write pretty good sentences, I think, and I can describe things well, and I think I can make something flow along in a natural way. I'm learning how to plot. I've been scared of that but I'm discovering that maybe I needn't be so afraid of it. I'm getting better at dialogue. Characters are hard for me, showing their inner lives. That flatness, that fear of sentimentality or overemotionalism, limits me. When I'm writing something that's not actually true, I think I am limited by that not-true-ness. I think I take it too seriously, and feel that that requires me not to bring anything personal into it, or else that would be cheating. And what I get at the end is flat and not that interesting. Jeremy has written a little about this, and he and I have talked some about it, but there's something contrived about fiction that is hard for me to get over. I think I would be most successful writing the truth about my life and then changing some names and a couple of details and calling it fiction, because when I try to invent characters and plot them I lose the sense of natural urgency and authenticity that I have when I'm writing something that feels raw and true for me. But I'm not brave enough to do that. Yet. I'm hardly brave enough to do that here, except once in a while.