December 2nd, 2010

cap, captain miss america


I love to talk about writing.

Last year and this year, I've found that the most interesting thing about LJ Idol are the "meta" discussions that crop up around writing, reading, commenting, critiquing, and all related subjects. Which is why I've been writing these home game entries about...said subjects!

I've said this before, but LJ Idol (and LJ in general) is about getting to know people better. There is a lot you can learn from someone's writing, but sometimes it's hard to tell if you're learning something about them, or just reading something into what they're saying, especially if they're writing fiction. You only have this very limited window into someone's life and way of thinking, and while, to me, it's totally valid to read meaning into a work an author didn't intend when you are reading for yourself, it's not necessarily the best way to go about making friends.

Sometimes, I get to the end of a piece before I realize it's fiction. This is usually, to me, a compliment to the author's ability, that they wrote something so believable that I think it is reflective of their own life. But sometimes, I get to the end of a piece before I realize it's non-fiction. I don't think that this is complimentary OR non-complimentary: it just is, and whether it has to do with the writing style, a detached tone, whatever: it happens. But I do think it is interesting, when I discover that something I've read is actually true when I was reading it through the lens of a fictive piece, and I often don't even know it unless it's mentioned in the comments.

Every act of writing is also an act of learning about writing, especially when you are writing in an interactive medium such as a blog or LiveJournal, where people can write back to you. And every act of writing in an interactive medium is also an act of learning about people.

One of my favorite things to see in posts where someone is experimenting with writing, or writing a piece of fiction, is not necessarily the piece itself. I love to read people's process notes, or author's notes, or other ruminations on the act of writing the piece.

It's a much-hated question for authors and artists alike, that is asked nearly every time the floor is opened to questions at a panel discussion or a lecture or master class:

"Where do you get your ideas?"

Those of us who write know that every idea comes from a different place. One might be from a dream. One might be from an interaction we had on the street. Another might be from reading someone else's story. Sometimes, they just pop into our heads fully-formed. The question that is exciting, that prompts the story that is exciting is not:

"Where do you get your ideas?"


"Where did you get this idea?"

Where did you get this idea?
How did you decide to express it in this way: in fiction, in narrative essay, in poetry?
How did you choose the particular voice with which to express it: a humorous one, a lyrical one, an ominous one?
What were the steps you took along the way, that got you from the idea to the act (apologies to TS Eliot)?

I have said myself, and seen other people say, that when we read fiction, it's hard to get to know the person behind it in the same way we do when we read nonfiction. But even with nonfiction, there is always a space to reveal something about yourself as a writer.

Author's notes can be incredibly fun to write, and can let you drop your narrative voice, free yourself from the restrictions you've put upon yourself while writing the meat of the piece, and provide a handy little peek into your own thoughts and your own identity as a writer. They can say things about you that even a tearful memoir can't say; they can provide insight into that tearful memoir that is deeply personal in a different way from baring your emotional soul. They can deepen the complexity of what might seem to be a simple and casual piece of writing; they can add a note of gravity to a humorous story or essay.

I also love when I see authors reply with comments that reveal a little more of their thinking than what they originally set out to tell. It's neat when someone comments on a particular detail of a story, and the writer takes a moment to reveal a little more about that detail, where it came from, how they decided to include it. I like it because it seems more interesting than a simple "thank you!" but it also helps me get to know the writer behind the words a little better, to peel another proverbial onion layer away from their writing process. And it helps me get to know them as a person, too!

I love to talk about writing, which I said when I started this post. So I love it when I see that other people love to talk about writing, too.