In his blog today, Neil says:
The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it's about and why you're doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising ("but of course that's why he was doing that, and that means that...") and it's magic and wonderful and strange.
I've felt that with the narrative non-fiction that I write, especially while I was working on Just A Geek, and it's the reason I keep trying to (privately) write fiction, even though I get terrified and give up after a few hundred words each time I do it.
A good friend of mine recently quit his very lucrative, very safe, very reliable job to pursue his dream to be an actor. I was equally horrified and impressed when he said he had to ditch what he called his safety net so he would be hungry and devoted and dedicated to the acting journey. I've done that journey, and it's one of the most difficult journeys available to the hopeful artist. My friend is outrageously talented, though, so of course he instantly booked a job in a big budget movie with an impressive cast. He may not have the safety net beneath him, but it's looking like he's not going to need it.
Me? I can't afford to cut away the safety net, because if I fall to my death, I take down the three other people who rely on me to support them.
I want to be a writer with a capital W, though, and it drives me crazy that I can't just make something up and take a reader on a journey through someone else's life the way I do with my own. I mean, I love to read fiction, I love to improvise scenes on stage, and I had more fun writing the Star Trek manga than I thought possible . . . but I get massive stage fright when I try to completely make stuff up. The last time I tried it and foolishly published the works in progress on my blog, it was a spectacular disaster. Oh well, at least it was spectacular.
I like writing, and I like blogging. Despite what many of us who keep blogs have argued over the years, I'm starting to believe that these are two different things, requiring different disciplines and abilities. While they use the same basic skill sets, the difference between them (for me, at least) is the difference between playing third base and right field. If I were to cut away the safety net, I'd have to stop blogging, I think, and just focus full time on being a student of creative writing. Yeah, I'm about fifteen years too late for that one.
However, when I wanted to be a comedy writer and improviser, I took classes to help me take my desire and whatever raw talent I had, and shape it into something useful, so I'm doing the same thing with writing. I read a lot, and not just as an audience member, but as a student. I have a couple of books on writing technique, specifically pertaining to short stories. I've been working through them, and the suggestions they give for technique -- structure, finding stuff that I'm passionate about and using it as inspiration for a story -- all seems so obvious to me when I read it, I'm surprised and not surprised all at once that I haven't already thought of it.
I'm getting good advice and guidance from these books and blogs I'm reading by and about capital "W" Writers, and though it's intimidating and overwhelming just about every step of the way (The Voice of Self Doubt keeps pushing his face up against the window of my soul and making scary faces at me, knowing that I'm unable to fully draw the drapes) Neil's affirmation has been printed out and pasted on the wall right above my computer, so I can look at it and stay on target:
You don't live there always when you write. Mostly it's a long hard walk. Sometimes it's a trudge through fog and you're scared you've lost your way and can't remember why you set out in the first place.
But sometimes you fly, and that pays for everything.
If Neil Fucking Gaiman can admit to feeling scared, if Neil Fucking Gaiman can admit that, even for him, it's a long hard walk, then I can also admit that it feels like that to me every single time I sit down and try to write fiction, and remember something John Scalzi said to me during dinner last week: "Don't be afraid to suck."
It seems so simple, doesn't it? It's the advice I give to actors who are going in on auditions: "Don't be afraid to suck, and don't be afraid to do your own thing. The important thing is to entertain yourself and forget about the result."
Why can't I take my own advice when it comes to writing? Probably because I have less experience as a writer than I do as an actor, and because I care about writing a hell of a lot more than I care about acting.
Maybe if I spend enough time trudging through the fog, I'll run into Neil, and he can help me find my way out.