The longer you teach English, the worse your grammar gets. You get so used to kids writing suceed instead of succeed, using random commas, or using colons incorrectly, you forget the way it's supposed to go. Just as reading helps improve kids' spelling and punctuation, reading kids' spelling and punctuation helps un-educate educators.
Apparently the same thing happens when you write plays.
I've been writing so much drama in one form or another for the past nine years, I've almost lost all eloquence in my fiction writing. Even before my playwriting journey began, I could never aspire to the prose heights of my favorite writers--Mary Stewart with her lyric use of words, Jane Austen with her fancy British tone, or Amy Tan with her Amy Tan-ish style--but two music-less musical libretti, four sitcom episodes, five or six other minor plays, two television drama episodes, a half-completed movie script adapted from a beloved novel, and countless skits later, I've lost the little I had.
My friends who have read my fiction tell me that how I write is fine and that they don't see anything wrong with it, but I know what I'd really like to do with what I say. Yet, no matter my intentions, when I sit down to revise my second novel (the one I actually think has a hope of getting published), I can't help but feel like I use the same fifty words over and over. It's almost as if I just want to get to the point, like stage directions and dialogue. I don't want to wow anyone with rich, exciting, original metaphors or vivid, lyrical descriptions of trees; I want my (non-existent) readers to know that Grant saw Sam, the boy looked away, and Clark said something. Grant didn't gaze, ponder, take in, peruse, observe, consider, or wonder at his similar features. He saw Sam, enough said.
It's not that I don't try to write my fiction with great eloquence and beauty; it's simply that when I say what I have to say, it doesn't come out pretty. It's basic. Perhaps someday I'll be admired for my style. Critics will rave about my direct, minimalist style as if every word was carefully selected for its most basic synonym, weighed out like single grains of rice on a scale. My work will be seen as a breath of fresh air after the bloated, pompous works of late (though I don't know when "of late" will be).
Oh but wait, maybe someone else will have published a book just as basic as mine, only first. Then my book will be seen as a cheap knock-off, the generic version of that other writer's work (the jerk) who found a publisher before I did. Critics will read my book and think (in a derogatory tone), "Another one like this?!?"
Hmmm, there seems to be a lot more to this creating thing that just creating. It's also all about timing and attitude, what people are tired of and what trends have passed their prime.
Well, I guess that part is out of my hands. Maybe like my two music-less musicals, my novel will be in the wrong genre for the moment, passé because someone beat me to it, or will just manage to hit the bookstores AFTER the crest of a wave that started while I was looking over the galleys.
Still, I'm going to keep revising. I'm an aspiring-to-be-produced librettist with no musical collaborators. I think revising a novel I wrote some five years ago is as good as any other project to focus on. And maybe it will open doors. Could you imagine if Nicholas Sparks, John Grisham, or Amy Tan wanted to write a Broadway musical? Yeah, skip the overture and go directly to the eleven o'clock number, that's what would happen.
the Broadway Mouth
January 18, 2009