Silicon Fiction

August 27, 2007

Why I can’t write fiction.

Filed under: Diary — Chris Neal @ 7:21 am

I love the process and craft of actually writing. The typing, correcting mistakes, editing drafts to make the narrative more concise and punchy. But what I seem to have a problem with is thinking up the story I want to write. I read novels and marvel at the way the author has created a fictional world out of thin air, with characters, a believable setting and an intriguing plot, and I think to myself: I could never do that.


I recently took a short course on writing fiction, and in it you had to do several writing exercises where you were told what to write about: describe a setting, a particular kind of conflict shown in dialogue, etc. I found this no trouble at all and quite enjoyed it, but I think this was because it was part of the course activities, so I knew that this piece of writing would be short-lived and valid within its context, and that it had to be done in order to complete the course successfully, but that’s as far as it went.


I now feel that the only way I can actually write something new every day is to continue that practice of picking individual themes, characters, places out of the air and writing a short piece about them, but something is stopping me. It’s as if I don’t want to begin writing something that I know will be discarded as an experiment because I view it as a waste of time. If I sit down and do all the the thinking and planning that a good piece of fiction deserves, then I want the result to be read, to survive, to live forever. It’ll be different when I get ‘The Idea’, I think to myself. One day I’ll have my Eureka moment; I’ll know what my novel is to be about and I’ll work like a man possessed from that moment on, the creation consuming me, until I have my blockbuster, prize-winning debut novel. I’ll be an overnight success, a millionaire, I’ll be invited on chat shows.




Every successful author I have read about reveals themself to be industrious, experimenting, drafting, re-drafting, trying things, throwing them away. The words you read are the tip of an enormous literary iceberg, nine tenths of which is not fit (in their eyes) for human consumption. In short, the novelists I admire got where they are today by doing precisely the ‘donkey work’ that I am so studiously avoiding.


My problem is made worse by my tendency to fence-sit. It was the same growing up. I was never one of those adolescents who could easily answer the question, “What do you want to be when you leave school?” I couldn’t understand those who so confidently and assuredly replied, “A nurse”, “A vet”, “A lawyer”. How could they close down their options so early on in life? Think of all the possible vocations and careers they are denying themselves by closing their minds to all other than their single childhood ambition. I have never felt strongly enough about anything to allow it so completely into my life, to let it push other aspects of life out of the way. It’s the same with professional sportsmen/women. In order to attain the high levels of performance they need to qualify for the Olympic Games, or whatever lies at the top of their chosen sport, they have to deny themselves so much: training when their friends are off having a good time, early nights and water when their friends are drinking and partying. I have never been able to relate to this single-mindedness. I find the same problem now when I’m sitting at my computer trying to think of a story idea. It’s not that I can’t think of one – quite the opposite. I can think of many, but feel unable to choose one to actually plan out and write because it would mean discarding all the others. So I stew in this soup of revolving ideas. They fly in slow circles round my head and I sit there, waiting, for dog to eat dog, for the weak ones to fall by the wayside of their own accord, for the fittest of them to survive. Then I would be able to write it, because someone – or something – else had made the choice for me.


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