Tag Archives: school

Fiction Writing and Me (Synthesis vs. Description)

4 Apr

School stretches on forever. At least that’s how I imagine the next few weeks will feel.

The first half of the semester flew by, through part adrenaline and part movement – I think I went home every other weekend for a good six or seven weeks. But now, during April, I face probably the longest uninterrupted stretch of school I’ve had in a while. No breaks, days off or going home until Easter.

I’m fine with that, though. After a much-needed spring break, I was ready to get on with it.

Over break I had the chance to work regularly on a fiction project I’ve been tackling since the fall. No, I’m not going to divulge details, I’m not there yet. And while it’s a bit of a truism that most journalists four or five “first chapters” lying around unfinished and neglected, I’ve gotten much farther in this project than any other previous long form attempt I’ve made.

That being said, I’m still plagued by an inability to add to it consistently. The drive to work on it comes in spurts, usually for a couple weeks and then recedes for maybe a month or so before coming back.

I’ve been reflecting on why this is and I have a couple observations about the difference between writers (or any artist or creative) who deals in creativity of synthesis and those who deal in the creativity of description.

1) The creativity of synthesis. These are the fiction writers. When I write fiction, I’m engaging in synthesis to create something new. I’m taking elements of truth, sometimes miniscule things I see – a personality trait, a physical detail – to big things – whole people, situations, events – and combining this with the power of imagination to synthesize something new.

As I’ve looked back at when I’ve found the constitution and drive to write fiction with any regularity, it’s been those times when quite frankly I’m almost bored. It’s also been those times when I’ve noticed I haven’t had as much social interaction. Not that I’ve been a hermit, just a little less than usual.

Why is this? I think it’s because while conjuring the real-life elements needed to make for good writing is somewhat easy (you need a good memory and a life full of experiences, something many people have) the synthesis part is incredibly taxing. The part where you have to invent and imagine storylines and plot and dialogue in convincing ways, that’s difficult.

Doing this well requires going into yourself, immersing yourself in your own imagination and your own created world. The reflection and immersion required doesn’t translate well into my everyday life, which is probably why it’s usually during breaks and the rare times when school is boring that it’s easier to sit down and write fiction.

2) The creativity of description. This is how I would classify my journalism and any of my non-fiction writing, such as this blog post. The creativity is not in invention, but in how best to use the tool of language to communicate the world you see around you. That’s where the creativity is. The creativity is in the technique, not the content. The content is the world as I’ve observed it, recorded it, talked to other people about it.

In contrast with fiction writing, my journalism is often best when I’m most immersed in the world around me, the time when I’m least aware of myself. So these are the times when I’m generally happy (but not estatic), and am not overly-stressed by school but am not completely bored either. In short, it is those rare moments when everything seems to be in equilibrium.

The whole enterprise is outwardly focused.

So is one mode of creating better than the other? No. I think there’s value in practicing both types from time to time, even if one has a clear strength and favorite.

I would have to lock myself in a room by myself for weeks on end if I was ever going to be a novelist. I wouldn’t want to do that. As refreshing as the introspection that fiction requires can be, I am too curious about the world around me to focus my curiosity inward for too long.

But, for those times every so often when the mood strikes, my project will be there, waiting. And that’s enough for me.


Last three weeks the twilight zone of the semester

30 Nov

Noon came Monday and I was sitting in my room, surfing the internet. Monday at noon also happens to be the time for my Western Civilization lecture.

As much as it is sometimes tempting to skip this class on Monday mornings, I didn’t skip. My reason for not attending is much simpler, and much more sad.

I simply forgot.

I wasn’t watching some awesome YouTube video, or pouring over that day’s Wikileaks documents (which you all should, by the way) that caused me to forget. I wasn’t doing anything amazing at all. The fact that I had this class simply escaped my mind.

It’s a bit odd that this would happen on the second to last week of class. I’ve been going to this class for at least three months now. I’ve never forgotten before.

So what happened? Break happened.

Thanksgiving break was a wonderful, glorious time. Reconnecting with old friends, seeing family, spending leisurely afternoons at the local coffeeshop and sleeping in served as a great recharge. I came out of break with more energy than when I started – a true success.

But there’s also a darkside to breaks like these, a downside not realized until you try to return to your daily rhythm. Thanksgiving break gives you just enough time – five days – to start to get comfortable in your old digs. It’s just enough time to settle into an old routine filled with old friends and familiar locales reminiscent of summer.

Normally, that’s great. I am fond of my summers and generally enjoy spending time back home (despite the neverending lack of “things to do”). But when a break gives you just enough time to reacclimate and then rips you out of your warm bed and back into bitter-cold Lawrence mornings, only pain can result.

Not to get all psycho-analytical, but I think subconsciously I’m still on break. My mind deep down doesn’t really want to be here. It’s all I really want to think about, too. I actually paused from writing a paper that’s due tomorrow to write this column (yeah, weird study break, I know, but that’s my point).

These last three weeks are the twilight zone of the semester. Your mind’s wandering away but your body’s still here. The trick is to either reconcile the two or figure out a way to get your stuff done while disconnected.

That’s the trick I’m still pondering. If you have it figured out, let me know.