View Full Version : troubles with shrinking personal scope and recycled writing

William Blake Bradbury
12-22-2004, 10:39 AM
About a week ago I received some to-sweet advice from Mr. Eraser that, considering my virginal age (I'm a tender 24; in literary years that's, like, 2 and a 1/2), I should consider sticking to the realm of my own experience, at least until I have a chance to advance beyond the cozy of the ivied ivory tower of college life and slip out into the wet and the wild of the world. Sound advice, dudinski, only there's a teeny-tiny, itty-bitty quandary: I've exhausted my personal experience. In one genius fell swoop I have absolutely depleted my stock of marketable trauma ([shaking fists at insouciant heavens and speaking in strident voice of Miss Anastasia Beaverhousen on "Will and Grace"]: "Ooooh, devil!") I've Jo Ann Bearded myself. Miss Beard, to refresh any stagnant memories, published "The Fourth State of Matter" in a 1997 issue of "The New Yorker." It was a memoir detailing her experiences as a single woman with squirrels living in her upstairs bedroom, a husband who's in absentia, a collie who's slipping away from cancer and a colleague at a science magazine who, by the end of the essay, will have shot her best friend, as well as several other associates. Several years ago Beard published "The Boys of my Youth," a fragmentary essay anthology in which, as one reviewer put it, "'The Fourth State of Matter' glitters like a solitary gem in a flimsy tin crown.'" Miss Beard wrote essayistic vignettes about girlhood crushes, grandmaternal dalliances, backwood stalkers and her alky father. These reminiscinces are rife with blocks of static description, conspicuous fictional techniques (she frequently narrates stories from her parent's lives in an omniscient manner) and smirky coyness. Miss Beard burned out all her juice in one go and, unable to conjure up any believable and saleable fiction (I sport the same affliction), she's simply run out of material. Personally, I'm faced with a double quandary: even the stories which might remotely stand on their own-or might congeal into another eclectic potpourri super essay, like "Gender-bendery"-are stories I've told over and over and just feel stale to me now. The best I've been able to come up with is: how I felt guilted by seeming providential protection (I've been run over 9 times and have walked away from every one) and sins of omission (a boy and my little sister almost died because of me: it's not as exciting as you might think), forced me to develop a religious paranoia which compelled me to try to be absolutely perfect in every way (my teenage years were packed with charity work at soup kitchens and rest homes, church plays and Promise Keeper retreats, reading the Bible 6 hours a day and praying for 8, until I become a monk; then came the demons); which, in turn, was flagellated by budding homosexual pangs (I've been mistaken for a woman 1,479 times to this day), until I became an atheist, burying all of those hurt and horror deep inside, until a pack of carnivorous squirrels and my cousin-whose own father, just a month before, had converted to Christianity-in a cosmic and fatal twist so bizarre, it almost seemed like divine intervention, died, forcing me to face the fact that I, despite much apparent Godly support, as my mother so succinctly put it, "betrayed my heritage." As you can see, this is horrendously convoluted and not nearly as engaging. Plus, again, the figurative language thing. I'm not a natural generator of figurative language. Which is not to say I don't have a great store of it. I have an estimated 10,000 metaphors and similes strewn in various unpublished fiction and non-fiction. But I feel guilty about re-using them: my only ex used to call it "recycled writing." In short, my problems are:
A) I've run out of material.
B) My stock of material (some 2 million words of it) no longer seems fresh.
C) I'm afraid if I pump all of the very excellent but not freshly written figurative language into my new writing, it'll seem as if I'm not creating anything new.

P.S. Please don't let any of this suggest that, just because I'm riddled with self-doubt, I'm not working. Even now, I'm cycling through possibilities, trying to dial down to that one winning combination (again)<img border=0 src="http://www.ezboard.com/images/emoticons/pimp.gif" />

12-22-2004, 10:48 AM
Stop fooling around. Go out and live some lives. Then come back in a year and tell us all about them.


aka eraser
12-23-2004, 06:57 AM
William, I think the problem of running out of material only exists if you're writing solely for yourself. If you have designs on publishing any of your gazillion words, you could be kept busy for a couple of years polishing and submitting just from your current stockpile.

Admittedly, that's not nearly as much fun as banging out another opus or three but it's the only way I know that will get your work read beyond AW's hallowed halls. :)

I also suspect you're overly critical of your writing when you try to write something different, something beyond your own experience. Maybe you're right. Maybe it does suck. But maybe in six months, or a year from now, when you revisit it you'll know how to make it better. Maybe it will contain the germ of an idea that's worthy, but needs time to develop.

Innate writing ability is a gift but becoming a fine writer is a process. It takes time. You have that. You have both.

On the somewhat more practical side I have a suggestion. Play the "what if" game. What if one of your particular experiences happened to someone else you know instead of you? How would each of your lives have changed? What if you'd been crippled the 7th time you got hit by a car? What if the same driver hit you each and every time? What if you woke up tomorrow 6' 2" tall, rippling with muscle and a heterosexual Adonis?

You can probably play the game better than I. Sounds to me like you just need your muse kick-started and inner editor hushed.

Or...go back to your earlier stuff, polish and submit. Or all or none of the above.

Just stay the heck out of traffic. ;)

12-23-2004, 11:10 AM
Don't give up on your writing! You will grow as a writer. The thing of it is, you never run out of material. Ever. That muse has a way of coming up with something or another for you to write, but only if you are willing to let it.

William Blake Bradbury
12-23-2004, 10:48 PM
...in the next two weeks I'm going to write a 5,000-word short story about something completely out of the realm of my experience, using zero autobiographical information and relying on detail, instead of my stylist tricks. And we'll just see:hat