The hardest thing for me to write is fiction, or at least that is what I tell myself when my writing is rejected over and over. I have graduated from the generic form rejection to personalized rejections, something I've been told is meant to be encouraging. Somehow I just cannot find rejection encouraging at first and then my stubborn nature kicks in. At least the editor knows I exist.
Then again, maybe the editor doesn't know I exist.
I spend a good part of my day reading and editing and reviewing the work of other writers and part of that is writing rejections, or at least rejecting part of the work. Line after line of simple grammatic mistakes, typographical errors, misspelling the same words and sloppy formatting are all part of what I outline in my critique. The bad part about it is that I remember the bad writing and mistake-riddled work far more often than I remember good work and a well turned phrase. If it's like that for me, it is logical to believe it is the same for other editors, and that is a little disheartening. I wonder how long writing that's almost there remains in a busy editor's mind. I can barely remember what I read last week unless I look at my records or happen to see the book. Then the good, the bad and the ugly rise up and hit me between the eyes; it is because I had a visual clue.
I remember writing, phrases and metaphors, wondrous prose and story lines that carve a path away from the mainstream and into something memorable. I often forget the writers' name unless I've read them time and time again. There are, however, writers that I remember after reading one book. How long did it take to get to the place where fiction was no longer hard for them? How did they know when they'd arrived? How many rejections did they get before the personalized notes turned to acceptance? These are the questions I ask every time I contemplate sending out a story.
Maybe I only think fiction is hard. A fellow writer told me that if I could write fiction the way I write in my journal with that free flowing and unique voice, I'd have no problems. It reminded me that I have the same problem with art. I find it difficult to create without a model. In nonfiction, life is the model and what I want to say quickly and neatly queues up in my mind so that writing is more an act of transcribing than actually writing. And then I remembered Michelangelo.
While working on the figures of the twelve apostles and appropriate decorations he was commanded to paint on the Sistine ceiling, Michelangelo used the people he met in taverns and saw in the streets as models for the apostles. He eventually threw out the work, not because what he painted was bad, but because it was a bad plan (twelve apostles and appropriate decorations). The figures were marvelous despite their humble origins. He was a master painter and knew what he was doing. As with art, so too with life--and vice versa.
All writers begin with life, what they know and have experienced, add dreams and fantasies from what they've read, and the result is art. Sometimes it's bad art, but art all the same. We write from experience even when the stories told are fantastical tales of dragons, witches, wizards and magic or tinkering with history by taking an ordinary life and juxtaposing it with historical figures. It all comes from the world lived in and the model is life.
The tale of Cinderella might become a tale of someone bound in servitude to an evil tyrant who has gifts the tyrant's adherents do not but is the magical workhorse who must stay in the background and make everyone else look good and feel comfortable. Then a scion from a great and powerful lord the tyrant wishes to woo and bind in marriage comes to find a suitable mate that will seal an alliance between the tyrant and the scion's lord. He happens upon the Cinderella in the gymnasium in a duel with the tyrant's vizier and mistakes Cinderella for one of the tyrant's daughters. Mischance turns to possiblility and Cinderella finds herself the scion's bride after a series of mishaps, misdirection and misdeeds by the tyrant in order to protect his interests. I have no doubt the story of Cinderella was born out of some young girl's unhappiness and dreams of something better. No one who hasn't known or seen that kind of trouble can possibly have created such a believable story. In life is art.
I found out I was better at fiction than I knew once I put aside the need to create out of whole cloth when all I needed to do was take a real situation, mold it into a little different shape and let my dreams run free. From the model of my life, I created fiction and it was not that hard. I had to go back and double check grammar and spelling and dig out the typographical errors, but fiction no longer felt so hard. The voice I finally found was my own, the voice contained in dozens of journals in which I wrote whatever came to mind every single day for decades, the voice I always had, the same voice I use when I related stories to my children and nephews and nieces. It was there all along.
I hope that editors remember me, and maybe they do since they send more acceptances than personalized rejections my way. Whether they do or not, I know one thing for sure. Even though I cannot always remember what I write, someone somewhere has heard my voice and a part of what they heard sticks with them. They may not remember all the words, but I bet they remember the plot, at least one of the characters and a deftly turned phrase or unique metaphor. In the meantime, I keep writing in hopes that something of the original model remains in the finished work.
Fiction isn't really that hard as long as I think of Michelangelo's models and remember they are only a starting point. Training, experience, grammar and careful proofing and editing also count as long as I'm willing to start over when the plan is bad.