I used to love to write fiction – fantasy and romance especially. I hoped to publish someday but mostly I just enjoyed writing and living in those worlds. I went through a divorce awhile ago and it rattled some of the carefree feel to my writing but I carried on, believing in the romance and fantasy and hoping for love again. Two years ago, my mom died and going through that and the fallout with my relationship with my dad just broke whatever it was remaining in me that could pretend or believe in the dream. I sit down and try to write fiction and it turns into memoir or how-to or similar. . . . [D]o you have any suggestions on getting my real/dreamer self back? I had resigned myself to the fact that this is the new me, like it or not, but lately I am mourning that loss and just not feeling okay with it.
First, what’s wrong with memoir or how-to? I love writing non-fiction (as anybody who reads this blog knows, I LOVE the sound of my own voice) and I don’t see it as a second-choice genre at all. If that’s where your inclination lies now, embrace it.
But you say you’re not okay with it, so my next question is “What is the story you have to tell that you can’t not write?”
I’m guessing there isn’t one. That is, you miss the experience of writing fiction–the out-of-body retreat-into-a-different-world rush, the sense that you control the world you’re writing, the feeling of being under the skin of characters fighting the good fight and falling in love—without having a specific story that you must tell.
Somebody close to me recently asked me if I thought she’d be good at writing fiction. She’s a terrific writer in letters and e-mails, so she clearly has the writing chops. But what I asked her was, “Do you have a story you have to tell?” And she doesn’t (right now), she just thought she’d like to write fiction. But if she doesn’t have a story she’s compelled to tell, that she HAS to get on paper or it’ll nag at her brain until she goes mad, then she really doesn’t want to be a storyteller, which is a particular kind of writing. If you don’t have a specific idea that you need to explore that will turn into a story that needs to be on paper right now, that you think about all the time, that seems realer than real life, then you don’t have to write it, and all the other stuff in your life (the big stuff) will get in the way.
The thing about writing fiction is that it’s really difficult, so if we can do something else, we will. When the going gets tough, we’ll wander away from the book and do something else. (Let me tell you about the last ten years of my career.) If life is like a placid pond, you can probably write a book you’re not obsessed with (I assume, I’ve never had a placid pond life). But if the book demands to be told, if you can’t not write it, then you’ll stick with it no matter what.
In your case, you may have a story that wants to be told, but you can’t hear it because of all the noise in your head from all the trauma your life has been hit with. Until that noise goes away (I suggest therapy, it’s saved my life and my career several times), you won’t be able to get to your stories. As soon as your brain is quiet enough that you can hear what the Girls are sending up, you’ll probably get a story that settles into your brain and won’t shut up. And if not, embrace non-fiction, a truly great genre; definitely look into narrative non-fiction which could be a great bridge to where you want to go.
Bottom line: It’s not your fault. Stop beating yourself up and be kind to yourself until you can hear the muttering of your subconscious again. And don’t limit yourself, either. Maybe the Girls are muttering a mystery this time. I wrote Tell Me Lies because I wanted to kill my ex-husband and that seemed like the most civilized way to do it. Maybe that memoir is the start of a novel after all. Good luck!