The CuriousPages Sketchbook

Writing: A Substitute Passion


For the past few months I’ve been wrestling with doubts over the direction that my writing should take. Should I continue writing fiction, or should I spend all my writing time working on the acupuncture book that I’ve been planning for the past two years but have not yet started? Before writing A Substitute Passion, I had began another short story, planned it in detail and began writing it, but I gave up work on it. I felt that I didn’t believe in the story, didn’t care about the characters, or didn’t believe any more in the process of writing fiction. I didn’t know what the problem was, but felt that I could not go on writing the story, or perhaps could not go on writing fiction. I had lost my passion for it—it seemed.

Or was it simply that I was wrestling with my conscience? More and more I’ve been feeling the call to write the acupuncture book. But once I begin it, it will consume all my writing energy for at least the next year, and for perhaps longer, so I am reluctant to begin work on it, since I am still keen on writing fiction and want to spend my writing time working on developing my fiction. I think.

Of the two, I am more stimulated by writing fiction and find it more rewarding. But I suspect that the problem might be that I have never been published. After twenty-five years of writing fiction, I still have not had a single work published and this does (even for a determined person like me) make it increasingly harder for me to believe in what I am doing. If nobody wants to read my work, is it of any worth? How would I know? And perhaps it is this doubt that makes me wonder whether I should be spending my writing energy on writing the acupuncture book, which does have a tremendous need—though, of course, it is possible that that book, too, would not be published. So, what do I do?

At the moment, I don’t know.

In the midst of all this soul searching, and having given up on the previous short story that I had began, I started writing A Substitute Passion. I deliberately picked a story design that was simple and that I would simply write, without doing much planning work beforehand (since I suspected that it might have been that process that had killed the previous story). And also, I wanted to find out if I did indeed still want to write fiction. I wanted to just explore the process of writing, to simply let my mind go where it wanted to, and then see if the results seemed, to me, of any value. This was my last ditch attempt to write another piece of fiction before giving it up for at least a year or two to work on my nonfiction acupuncture book (though thinking about the nature of that book, as I have planned it, I have come to think of it, in my own mind, as my greatest work of fiction yet).

The process of writing the story only took me a total of about a week. Yet halfway through that process, I put the work aside on one day, feeling that I just did not believe in what I was doing. I picked it up again a few days later and managed to finish it. I read the work back and decided that it was of no value, that I was indeed wasting my time, and put it aside again. The next week, I read through it again and did some editing work on it, then put it aside, still feeling that it was of little real value, though written competently enough. A weekend passed and I picked it up again and read it through, but this time, I found the story stimulating, amusing, and felt proud of it; at the time, I even felt that it may be the finest piece of writing that I have yet produced. It is strange how the state of your own mind can have such a big effect on the perceived quality of any piece of work.

The story

I won’t comment on the details of the plot, or any meanings that might be seen in the images, metaphors, or other descriptions used, since, me having written the story, all these things are obvious to me (at least my interpretations are obvious to me; of course other readers will have interpretations that had not occurred to me), so I don’t feel any urge to write about this elements here.

But what I am stimulated by, as the writer, is the fabric of the story. It is this element of the writing that I find most pleasing, since it was not planned by me. In fact, I had no conscious control over it. It just happened. And when I look back at the story, I can see, now as a reader, all the subtle references back and forth in the content. What I also like is the way that Mandy’s relationship with Paul is gradually revealed. At first, it is not mentioned, then it is hinted at, and then, as the story progresses, the details are gradually revealed, and as each new detail is revealed, this changes the significance of some of the plot details that we had previously understood in a different way, or had not thought about at all as we were reading them. I can’t recall using this approach previously in a story.

The other elements that I find most appealing in the story are also the things that I had no conscious control over and that just appeared, as if from nowhere, such as the image in the opening paragraph of Mandy complaining to the parking attendant, whilst taking time out from vocally nursing her broken ankle, and addressing the attendant in the manner of “an impatient town crier”.

There are many different strands in the fabric of the story, and I like the way that these are all woven together, giving the story a “musical” texture, in my mind. I’m quite conscious of cadence when I read the story back. This also gives the writing a musical feel to it. There is a strong feeling of rhythm, of momentum, and of cadence. And I can even hear cadences of different “types” at the end of different paragraphs, much like, in music, you have a “perfect cadence”, an “imperfect cadence”, a “plagal cadence”, and so on. I can hear all this when I read the story back, though when writing it, I was not at all aware of such things. The words just seemed to come to me, composed in a certain way. I’ve noticed that when I try to change a passage, I will often end up going back to how it first came out. The subconscious mind has a great facility for composition, and the conscious mind often just seems to get in the way. So, for me, as a writer, it is the fabric of the story that I find most pleasing.

Plot wise, after reading the story back, I am conscious of a theme that appears, which, again, did not happen by design. It is the fact that each of the three characters are all attacking innocent bystanders in order to vent their own frustrations about other people or situations in their life which have nothing to do with the innocent bystander. Susan “plots against” Mandy in order to somehow work out the “issues” in her own past life; and Helen does the same to Mandy, and Mandy does the same to Helen.

My turmoil

So, does this story resolve my turmoil over the direction that my writing should take? I don’t know. Even though I’m pleased with the story, all my doubts are still there. Certainly, being published would help. Perhaps. But then again, I don’t know. I just don’t know.

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13 May 2010



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