Simple does it. I don't know why for such a long time I was trying to write, you know what I mean? TO WRITE. So it looked fucking WRITTEN. When all I had to do is simply say what I saw in my head on paper. It's so easy to get carried away in this notion of writing. Stories are something that has to be written. With these complicated words, in elaborate sophisticated sentences that do a switchback on each other and dazzle readers' minds. Bullshit. How I wish someone could have explained this to me 2 years ago, when I started writing. If you're a beginning writer like me, I hope this post will save you a lot of headache and a ton of anguish. I hope I can help you jump through the hoops that I myself didn't see and had to grope for, blindly, in the dark, sick with fear, stomach twisted up in anxiety. Sweat on my forehead. The stinky unhealthy kind. The hollow sign of horror.
I thought I was doing it right, squeezing prose out of me with mechanical determination, my face dead like a clockface. Stubborn. Parsimonious. With an undershot chin and fiery eyes. Oh, I worked so hard, I worked my ass off. And now, this post, the reason I'm writing it, is this. Next week, actually, Wednesday, to be specific, I'm starting to write the 3rd draft of IRKADURA, my 3rd novel (fun math, eh?) and I'm both scared shitless and excited. Scared, because of course, the crazy filly that I am, I'm terrified of fucking it up. Excited, because for the first time in these 2 years, I think I know exactly what I want to do with it. I might be wrong, yes, but it feels good, this knowledge. I glimpsed it recently, from reading. And it's this.
ALL COMPLEX WRITING IS SIMPLE.
Partly this came to me after reading Verlyn Klinkenborg's Several Short Sentences About Writing, partly from reading a lot. Novels. All kinds. Everything that seems to be extraordinarily said, well put, or so smart that it crackles with genius, is really very simple. How did I not see this before, don't ask. I'm scratching my head myself. I guess this is why they tell you to read a lot and write a lot. It comes with practice.
When starting out, we all think that good art takes some amazing heterogeneity of mind, some surfeit of talent, some wellspring of fucking genius (see what I'm doing here?), and so we try. We try really hard. We study, we put forth our best, we WRITE. But pause here for a second. Think about the last time you told your friend a story. About something trivial, just some everyday stuff. How you got drunk or how your kids broke your washing machine or how the neighbor's cat has six toes as it turns out, so it can climb trees and hand down off a brunch like a monkey. Or whatever. If you were to record yourself, it would all sound very simple, right? No big complicated words, well, maybe a handful here and there. No long compound knotty sentences. Now think about your favorite book, and compare. Whatever seems so complex in it, is very simple. Every sentence, every instance of dialogue, every description, every plot, can be pared down to simple things.
I'll drop another hint here. The most successful books? The ones that sold a lot and have been read by a lot of people? Are very simple. Let me dare and say something that might be considered a blasphemy on such literary genius like J. R.R. Tolkien. But The Hobbit is a very simple book. The prose is very simple. The dialogue is very simple. The author is not trying, he is simply telling the story, and that is why it reads so well. Or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It's so simple, so very simple, you swallow it whole and want more. Why? Because you enjoy reading it. Let me ask you this. Do you honestly enjoy reading long convoluted works that you can hardly comprehend? You might, but only once in a while. It's hard work. It takes a certain state of mind to be able to process truly complicated writing. The lesson from all this is the following.
DON'T MAKE YOUR WRITING MORE COMPLICATED THAN IT IS.
If you really are a literary genius who is able to spit out bilateral multileveled enclaves of thought that lead your readers to strabismus, by all means, go for it. I'll admire you, because I can't. And one other lesson I learned from writing consists of one very simple truth. I have to be ME, to write well. If I try to be someone else, I will suck. So let me illustrate this simplification I'm talking about on a little excerpt from my draft, to think through this together with you. Here is the opening of 2nd draft of IRKADURA:
"Irka Myshko woke up at a quarter to six in the morning next to a boar and a catfish, on a bed in the middle of the woods. She looked them over. Nothing changed since yesterday; on the contrary, they looked peaceful. Sun sent feeble rays through a ceiling of leaves. Light greased the boar with shine. Its snout wheezed, its beastly body heaved. Irka passed her eyes over the shape next to it. The bloated sot of a bottom feeder. Parasitic. Naked. It opened its suckermouth, wiggled. Bed springs whined. The boar snorted and turned, exposing its paunch. The kill zone area."
Ugh. Wordy. Trying too hard. I can sense it. I don't necessarily know how to fix it all, to make it satisfy my quest for perfection, but I know that I will try my best and with time will get to that place where I will stop trying too hard and will know how to write well. Here goes (what follows took me 1 hour of thinking, by the way):
"Irka Myshko woke up at a quarter to six on a cold September morning. To her left lay a boar, next to it a catfish, both snoring. She looked them over. Shiny fur. Heaving hides. Bloated sots. Parasitic. Naked. The catfish opened its suckermouth and wiggled. The bed springs whined under its weight. The boar turned, exposing its paunch. The kill zone area."
Okay, this is a little bit better, but still needs to be simplified more. It will take me many more hours next week to perfect the opening, but I wanted to share this. It reads much easier, doesn't it? Less confusing? More straightforward? I thought so. For example, I think I may do another pass and make it even simpler:
"Irka Myshko woke up at a quarter to six on a cold September morning. To her left lay a boar and a catfish, both snoring. She looked them over. A pair of bloated sots. Parasitic. Naked. The catfish wheezed through its suckermouth. The boar snorted and turned, exposing its paunch. The kill zone area."
I'm still unhappy with this, and, granted, it's only the 3rd draft and I may need the 4th one with this book, but I'm very happy with how much more trim and direct this opening is. I've stopped trying hard and am simply describing enough of what the readers needs to know, trusting that the rest will form itself in the reader's mind. You can do the same to your writing. Seek out those places that feel uneasy to you, where you stumble and are not quite sure how to proceed. Simplify them or cut them out completely. You may have noticed that I cut out the reference to the woods entirely. It's an unnecessary extra that doesn't add to the story, so out it goes.
Well then, three more days till I start. I hope I helped you. Now it's your turn. Wish me luck.