I recently finished the second draft of my latest short entitled "All Debts Public and Private." For the sake of brevity, let's just say the story is about two people reuniting after years apart following a rough breakup. It is more or less inspired by real events in my life; in fact, the desire to write the story came to me when I heard a song that reminded me of her.
It's one of the most personal stories I've ever written, and the writing of it was fueled by emotion rather than inspiration. Now that the rewrites are largely finished, I've been thinking about the experience, and I'm still not sure what to make of it. I'm tremendously proud of the writing, and I think it's probably the best I've ever done. The framework of the story is largely true, as I've said, but the climax of the story is all fiction, and something I'm also very satisfied with. But the whole endeavor has me a little bit worried.
William Faulkner, at the Nobel banquet in 1950, while lamenting how the world had become blinded to the spiritual by a fear of physical death, said, "Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat."
After writing "Debts," I think I see what he means. I still love science fiction and fantasy, and I still want to write it, but I'll never write anything of substance until I put my heart into it. Even if the day comes when I can spin perfect sentences without need for a writing group to help me, what good are those sentences without feeling? I look back on my work, limited though the bibliography is, and I don't see one story that has my heart in it. Sometimes I give lip service to it, but after writing "Debts," none of feels real.
I should stop before I sound too self-aggrandizing here, but I'm trying to say that I didn't have any trouble writing this story. It isn't the greatest thing ever, but for now it's the best I'm capable of, and I don't think it's a coincidence.
George R R Martin also quoted Faulkner in his retrospective anthology "Dreamsongs," and what made George such a successful writer then (and now) is that he wrote from the heart. I've read stories of his that involved necrophilia, lonely space stations, brain-eating alien jello, and all of it has the heart that all of my stories lack.
All but one, that is.
I wish I knew how to put that same heart into my other writing. I guess that's part of the growing process, huh? Figuring stuff like this out?