Below I thought aloud a little about why I write. After I had finished it, and read Allan's comment – particularly agreeing with the appreciation of both process and result, I began to wonder why I do not write fiction.
Fiction, after all, can be the most creative blend of word and imagination. Yet when I write, I somehow exclude my imagination from my thoughts. Instead, I find myself trying to hone onto an emotional truth; to express myself as clearly and as real as I can. I feel sure that some of my aversion to writing fiction comes from a sense that it creating yet another mask between myself and the reader.
Yet I am beginning to understand that this aversion is, in itself, no more than another mask. Yes, a work of fiction places the narrative and description outside of the writer's real world, but the act of creation does not work in a vacuum. To truly distance yourself from your words is impossible. Even extreme methods such as the cut-up writings of William Burroughs signally fail to remove the author's personality from the writing.
So is all writing in some sense autobographical? If the author is striving to create something fresh and worthwhile, I would say yes. Of course, the vast bulk of fiction writing – from romance novel to detective thriller – is formulaic. Little room for personality there, and that is why such books are so disposable. Only a few authors rise above the cliché, and, if they are successful, they will soon generate a host of second-rate imitators.
Only a few books, typically the weightier novels of the 19th and 20th centuries, appeal on any serious artistic level to me. I enjoy the disposable detective novel, but more for the soduko-like puzzle solving than for any insight into the soul. These are easy to read – usually knocked off in an hour or two – and lead to essentially fleeting pleasures. The deeper insights from, say, Proust or Joyce, require a lot more work. Sometimes I will devote as much time to a single page as I might to an entire mystery novel.
But it will be worth it. The trouble, if it can be called so, is that the depth of insight developed by these masters of fiction leaves me feeling completely inadequate in my own attempts to write imaginatively. I know this is too harsh. An author does not need to be a Thomas Mann to write artistically. But being aware of such high standards ups the ante and it is very hard to place a bet.