It’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these. For one thing, I’ve been working on the Goddamned Assignment for my Ethnic Collections Development class, which took up too much of my time before I finally finished it and turned it in on Sunday afternoon (I don’t expect a good grade on it; I worked my ass off, but I never really figured out what the professor wanted, so who knows?).
I’ve also been reading The Dark Tower, the last book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Say what you will of Stephen King and what you will about your estimation of my critical thinking skills and ability to appreciate good writing, but I think Stephen King tells a hell of a good story. Reading this book reminds me of when I watched The Return of the King last year; it’s the end of something I’ve been enjoying for years (in the case of the Dark Tower series, nearly twenty years), and nothing after it will even come close to comparing. Oh, sure, there will be good, even oustanding, movies and books afterward; but anything King writes after this will simply be afterthoughts. It’s no wonder, to me, that King is planning on retiring after this; the Dark Tower storyline has been the Big Story which has driven most of his fiction since 1982 (and possibly before), and with its completion, the story is done. He’ll either retire, or simply take his writing in an entirely new direction. King is a good writer. He’s also popular, though, which means it’s fashionable to discredit his writing abilities.
I did manage to do some writing over the past few days, though. I’ve added about a thousand words to “The Winds of Patwin County”, though I haven’t worked on the Outer Darkness outline at all. My writing is suffering because of my reading.
Some of the things that King has written in The Dark Tower, as well as some of what he wrote in On Writing, has gotten me to thinking about the creative process in general. I never took a course in aesthetics when I was getting my degree in philosophy, but I understand that one school of thinking in that field posits that creative ideas are not truly invented by artists or writers, but are, actually, “discovered”. The stories and the ideas are already out there; it’s the artist or the writer who brings form and expression to these stories and ideas. This is the sort of thing which Michelangelo had in mind when he said that he could see the sculpture in the rock, and all he needed to was chip away to obscuring stone.
One could argue that this notion seems to be supported by findings in comparative mythology: the same themes and ideas and motifs seem to crop up over and over throughout the world, across cultures, and throughout history. I think that the value of this observation to the notion of pre-existing ideas is weak at best, but it’s an interesting idea to ponder.
Many writers — including King, Tolkien, and many others — have said that they feel more like a conduit for the stories that they write and tell than creators. And just about every writer I’ve ever spoken to or read about has said that they often feel like the story “takes over” from time to time, or that the characters have taken over the story. More than one writer has warned that the stories which the writer tries to force too much control over are usually the worst. Of course, other writers have cautioned against going along too much with “what feels natural”, because what feels natural is often just the first thing that comes to mind; and the first thing that comes to mind is usually a cliché of some sort. I’ve noticed in my own writing that “what comes naturally”, though, is usually different from “what comes first”, and that what comes naturally is usually a lot longer in coming. Stories do have their own flow, and it takes awhile to discover what that flow is. And, of course, no story is ever perfect in its telling. God knows I’ve never managed to write a story which captured perfectly the tale I’m trying to tell.
At any rate: I’m not the first person to make this observation, and I certainly won’t be the last.
Some stories, I think, are simply parts of a much larger story that the writer is tapping into. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was simply a small part of a much larger history of Middle Earth that Tolkien felt he was tapping into. George Lucas’s Star Wars films are a part of the much larger Star Wars milieu that he and his fan base have been building over the last thirty years or so. And most of Stephen King’s novels have been a part of the overall Dark Tower story.
I’ve been trying to pull off the same thing myself. Most of the role-playing games that I’ve run over the past fifteen years have been a part of the overall Terassic Cycle story which I hope to wrap up this year, and I do plan on writing a series of novels which tell that story. I do wish, though, that I could have done what King did and write a couple dozen novels which all tied in somehow to the Terassic Cycle but which each stood as good novels on their own merit as well, but that would have required me starting my writing career about fifteen years ago. A little late now.
Of course, I know that I should be spending more time writing than writing about writing. So I’ll get to it now.