I’ve been struggling lately with what my next book will be. One day, I came up with a brilliant idea. I was reading Beckett’s Murphy–a book about a man who likes nothing better than the states of non-existence he arrives at through tying himself to a rocking chair in the dark, but comes up against problems like needing to find a job so that his girlfriend will stay with him–and really enjoying the farcical elements of it. So I thought, why don’t I write a farce?
My life for the last several years has had elements of the ridiculous to it–the inability, after college to find any work, the Catch 22-like realities of dealing with student loan lenders (for example, at one point I was told I wasn’t able to get a deferment because I didn’t have enough money to get my account up to the point where I could receive one), the ridiculously bureaucratic nature of the system designed to help people in need–so why didn’t I create a novel that followed a young person in similar situations, making it even more over-the-top ridiculous than reality?
Well, I certainly tried. I got up to the part that I had envisioned in my head where the protagonist, Austin Addle, is at his graduation ceremony and the keynote speaker has a melt-down, telling them all the economy is crumbling, and there are no jobs, and they’ve just passed the best point they’re likely to have in their miserable, debt-laden lives. And after reading it, I remembered one problem with the idea of me writing a farce.
Samuel Beckett, for all his existential themes and darkness, is really a very funny writer.
I’m really not a very funny writer.
And also no Samuel Beckett, but I think that goes without saying.
Anyway, it got me thinking about using strengths as a writer. Funny is not my thing. I’ve never been very funny. My strengths lie in descriptions, world-building, playing around with structure. And the only way I learned these strengths was by writing. And writing some more. And throwing a lot away. And then writing some more.
And, when that was all done, looking critically at my work, and using the feedback of others to decide what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. Going to school for writing was very helpful for this (one of the few ways you’re guaranteed an audience as a writer), but I realize not everyone is in a position to do that. The feedback you can receive from joining a writers’ group or asking your friends to read is just as helpful. Outside feedback is so vital to seeing how your work is coming across–when it’s just you writing and reading, you know what you’re going for, which makes understanding what an outside reader perceives difficult.
At the end of the day, figuring out your strengths and using them saves a lot of wasted time and work.
As for the adventures of my recently graduated and ridiculously hopeless protagonist, I may not be able to write in a very funny manner, but I can write the ridiculous. So I guess, at the end of the day, maybe there’s still some hope for this new novel after all.