The disappointment in writing prose can be guessed by subtracting a work’s real quality from that perceived upon completion, then assigning a rank between one and ten – similar to the pain scale in a doctor’s office – of whether your idea is aptly conveyed (ten being the worst communication) and then raising your initial sum to the power of that rank. For a more exact measure, take .000001 of your emotional exhaustion minus your sense of accomplishment and multiply the product by the rough score described above. Please note: the second score may be frighteningly larger than the first. For good measure, tack on a displeasure score for this mile-long equation masquerading as writing.
First, I’ll assuage your unease – and mine – with whatever behemoth number came out of the woodwork. Writing so as not to look inept is damn tricky. Success is creating “salvageable work” – mediocre with major revision; and by major revision, I mean yielding half your work to the midden-heap and the other to Joan Rivers’ plastic surgeon.
The most easily transmitted writing is true; it boasts a set of stowaway rules and realities – like world history – that don’t impede and free the author for more elaborate tasks. In this sense, historical fictionisa sweet deal; it comes with prefab setting and exposition. This approach can be extended to characters. Fictional characters require the author to fabricate plausible personalities. The strain of inhabiting characters, enlivening them, surrendering to them like a neurotic character actor, corrodes the self and skirts the edge of a mental collapse. Building characters solely from real-world contacts lessens the stress of dividing oneself into further, independent and believable selves. Your knowledge of the person/ model provides some data, however meager, from which to inferboth action The result some leeway for intricate work. Unfortunately, mental remains, like their physical counterparts, have expiry periods. This caveat is best explained by the numerous revivals that take place in fantasy literature. For every vivacious and eloquent specter garbed in pristine flesh there are twelve fresh-from-the-sepulcher meat-sacks closer to under preserved organic produce than their living selves. Yes, even hoar-speckled meat has character, though usually the pungent kind preferred in cheese. Memories –especially those decayed by time – are also anecdotal. A print of a famous painting looks better when hung than the frayed corner of the real thing; just so, an artificial but complete character can sometimes surpass a partial real one. In the quandary of character construction, the easiest answers are forgery and necromancy.
Surely you’re doubtful about writing “partly true” fiction. Am I right? Some might say that fiction should be just that – fictional. Well, non-fictional fiction is better than partly fake fact. Many authors borrow elements from their lives, and are, correctly, not reprimanded. A historian who contrives his own people, places, and events, on the other hand… If that doesn’t calm your conscience, this should: our own worldview is as fictional as can be. This concerns my second comment on the miseries of writing:
Man is feckless when gauging reality, especially that of his own abilities.
Judgment resides at the junction of reality and fantasy, a chasm the human mind bridges fearlessly. This is the place where evidence of “truth” – sensory information – is absorbed; where the rarely critical – oft fantastical – mind takes charge. The calculating of our end result, our conviction of truth, varies widely. It does not share, even partially, a rule, bar one crucial piece: unreason. Like my desultory first-paragraph formula, our logic is largely made-up. Human senses may be somewhat uniform; the machine to which they feed data is as like to be grapefruit spoon as particle collider. The soon-to-be-discussed matter of disappointment in writing is one real product of man’s flighty “reasoning.”
The discontent of writing is most concerned with loss. Increasingly, we believe in losing not only what we have but what we hold as potential–results we’re banking on. Just as portfolios are built on guesses of future stock, bond, real estate, or insurance value, our expectations of the future perch dangerously upon predicted gains. Our emotional stockbroker is tempestuous, however, and his – our– portfolio boasts twice as many penny stocks as treasury bonds. Like a man gambling with borrowed cash, we face ruin at every die-roll or card-flip – at every outcome.
The human “talent” for prophecy pales when compared with that for cobbling arguments from iffy evidence. Illustrated by the planning fallacy, our meticulously supported future has no preparative value. Like a map made by collaging, our own mosaic of perception – our idiosyncratic method of thought - distorts our forecasts. A poor map will not deliver the right place, but it must always find a wrong one. Attachment to a plan makes it harder to endure the unexpected. If one steps on a plane bound for Kabul prepared for adventure but ignorant of his destination, he’ll surely respond better than if he had planned to arrive in Paris.
In writing, we undertake an exhaustingly hard task. To succeed, we often compromise content, delivery, and the lucidity or veracity of message. We expose the soul of the work, our worldview, to criticism; readers alight upon the mental weakness we’ve transmitted to the page. Even when sound, the critical approach we offer as vaccine – against misconception– may not take. If poorly made, the reader will reject it, antibodies swarming foreign tissue. Finally – and fatally – we are presumptive. We assert success beforehand and borrow –happiness, self-worth, existential purpose – against it. Science has cemented loss aversion as fact; loss hurts more than gain; we still treat prospective success as the real deal, though.
When writing disappointment, we can only expect it. Of course, if Tolstoy said misery to be more interesting than joy, our own fiction will surely find an ardent – and subdued – readership.