Guest Post: Finding Fiction

My friend Jennie Dietrich used to quote this little ditty when we were afraid:

When in doubt,
When in doubt,
Run in circles, scream and shout!

It captured how I felt when I’d write and write, crawling toward a book on a path of words, each one wronger than the 200,000 that had preceded it.  Unable to write her then-(not) working novel, Jane Smiley began a reading, assessing, learning project that led to Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (2005) that helped me understand where my own had gone into the ditch.

Our ancestors worked so hard to give us choice. Talk about high-class problems. Today’s Guest Post is from Aliya S. King – noted journalist and author of four books, including 2010’s Platinum – on the topic of ‘Finding Fiction’ .

Come on, Aliya! Show us what it looks like to discipline the fear –and mine the mind–so that we can live up to legacy. – Lorene Cary


My well is dry.
I’ve been writing professionally since 1998. And in thirteen years, I’ve never experienced this. I sit down to write each morning and there’s nothing there. I piece together a few sentences in a novel that doesn’t move me, just to say I did so. But it feels hollow and false. (And I find myself rolling my eyes in disgust when I re-read what I’ve written). I keep writing to exercise the muscles. But in truth, I feel like a fish out of water, flailing for a breath.

I don’t have writer’s block. I’ve been there. And while writer’s block is it’s own miserable hell, that’s not where I am right now. What’s going on with me is different and truthfully, it’s much scarier.

For the first time since I was five years old, I feel like I don’t have anything to say.

A few months ago, I did have a crippling case of writer’s block. I had several projects to complete and nothing would come out. I knew what I needed to say but something was keeping me from actually getting the words down. Some days, I would stare at the empty page with tears streaming down my face, unable to write a single sentence.
Those awful days passed and my writing came back as quickly as it disappeared. But now my dilemma is different. I feel like I can write anything. I just don’t have an idea that thrills me. I don’t even have an idea that makes me slightly curious. It’s a feeling I’ve never known.

Some days, I wander over to the bookcases in my dining room and run my hands down the spines of the books I’ve published. There are four in all, three non-fiction and one novel. After ten years of freelance magazine writing, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever publish a book. So when my career in books took off in 2008, I was over the moon.

And while I was lucky in many ways, my book deals were also the result of my hard work. I do not have a degree in journalism or creative writing. And I did not have a typical entry into the field. I clawed my way to an opening and then muscled my way into the writing industry with brute force. So when people contact me about writing advice, I am firm and resolute: Do what you have to do! Write something every day! Stalk influential people and get them to help you! Don’t tell me you can’t do it! If you want to write, just do it! You don’t need inspiration; you need tenacity!

And now here I am, on the other side of my own advice. Struggling to find a story that needs to be written.

I decided to take some time off from writing and do some reading. I plowed through Tayari Jones’ new book Silver Sparrow and loved it. I re-read Toni Morrison’s Sula for the 1,000th time and, as always, it inspired and enlightened me as a reader and as a writer. Now, I’m going to bed each night with a copy of Zora Neale Hurston’s autobiography. She’s fully drawn me into her world and I love the way she writes ordinary sentences with the rhythm of a poem.

I don’t have an action plan to solve this dilemma. I can’t tie up the ends of this post in a neat little bow with an inspiring message about how to find fiction when it eludes you. I have no answers.

All I’m sure of is that my writing career is not over. I don’t know what the next book will be. But I do know that in the past four years, four books have managed to find me. This time around, I’ll have to get out there and find it myself.

Aliya S. King is the co-author of Keep The Faith, with platinum-certified recording artist Faith Evans, published in 2008 by Grand Central Books. The memoir, which landed on the New York Times Bestseller’s list, was also published in paperback in 2009. She also collaborated with Frank Lucas on his memoir: American Gangster published by St. Martin’s Press in 2009. Her first novel Platinum was published by Touchstone/Fireside in 2010. The sequel, Diamond Life, will be published in early 2012.

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