Before I stumbled into writing, music was my thing, ever since I was about six years old. I played various instruments over the years – keyboards, bass guitar, guitar, clarinet, and a weird spell on the french horn that didn’t last long. One of the things I loved about music – especially performing it at whatever level, even just in front of friends – was the joys of spontaneity. The kind of connection you get with an audience, mutually acknowledging a sweet note, or just seeing where improvisation leads you.
Writing doesn’t really do that. Writing is something that is done behind closed doors, showing few people until you’re ready; polishing, discussion, labouring the point, editing, proofing – and then, eventually, putting it in front of an audience. There’s a time lag of up to a year between the finished product leaving your hands and it appearing in someone else’s.
Writing doesn’t do spontaneity well. It doesn’t do improvisation. It doesn’t have that two-way interaction with an audience, and it’s one of my enduring frustrations with the art. The little creative thrills are limited to a good scene you just thought of, or a smart line that has you smiling, but even then, the instant sense of self-satisfaction is probably not a good thing (people can easily hear their own good riffs or bad notes, but not so much a good paragraph – one of the reasons terrible writers can’t always see that they’re terrible).
However, something I’m working on at the moment does kind of recapture some of this two-way ground. It brings writing into being a pseudo-performance (even though the delay until publication could be a year or so). I never like talking about unpublished things (because they could forever remain unpublished), but I’m really enjoying creating a plot that revolves around a locked-room mystery.
Becoming conscious – at a highly pedantic level – of deception, trickery, of showing the reader something that’s impossible, brings back that sense of interaction with an audience again, much more so than when I’m writing a standard plot. In fact, the audience is much more central to my thinking because of the locked-room mystery at the heart of matters. It’s not direct feedback from the audience, I’m kind of splitting my mind into thinking on behalf of the audience, but because of that new sense of pseudo-interaction, I haven’t had this much fun in years.
Interesting, how do you get on reading your work aloud, Mark?
I’ve not done it that much, and I did think about including it in this post, but generally I think it’s different to the writing.
The nearest thing to writing performance, in that sense, is like Harlan Ellison sitting in the window of a bookstore for people to see a writer at work! (Though in my case, that would largely be procrastinating online.)
So, immediate, spontaneous, allowing for discussion with audience, and utilising the written word. Is it a blog post Mark?
Hi Brian. Again, I don’t think it’s the same thing as music. I’d say only if it was a fiction blog (I’m not concerned with non-ficton that most blogs are), which was written pretty much on the spot – then it might come a little closer. Though I don’t see many benefits for a writer to write something instantly and put it out there for the world to see. And it’s still not a real-time interaction, like music…
Do you think it would be possible that if someone saw themselves as a
storyteller rather than a writer, they could get a bit more of that
instant appreciation going on? After all the medium of written words is
never going to work that way – there will always be a delay. But
telling stories, verbally, might be a bit closer to that instant
reaction. In the same way a stand-up comedian has a script but is free
to veer off, could something that you’ve prepared ahead of time but with
gaps for improving/audience participation give you that sort of feel?
Oh God, I think I’ve just described roleplaying (the dice ‘n paper based version, not the whips ‘n chains one)…
Oh yeah, definitely – I knew someone who used to do that actually. A slightly different art, but yes, has the same kind of impro!