Taking a little break from David Morrell's thrillers, I started reading a novella by James Sallis called Renderings. I have very little idea what's going on in the story, but I've never minded being lost with Sallis. The trail may not be cut neat and tidy and paved, but you know there'll be great vistas along the way and that you'll end up somewhere interesting.
The main character in Renderings is a writer, and at one point we hear the following thoughts:
"Walking in the hills today I thought how surprised our old professors would be at the way I write. Suckled on New Critics, they believed the writer a master manipulator, a kind of conjurer, every word and motion bent inexorably to the final effect. I believed it too, but when I began to write, from this side of the door, that all collapsed. The only way I could do it was by winging it; if I knew things ahead of time, I simply couldn't make myself write. From page to page, word to word, I never knew what would happen. I still don't."
Although this is a character speaking, I suspect strongly that this is the way Sallis himself works. Thus my comments about the meandering path. Of course, I think this approach to writing works better with Sallis's more literary fiction than it would for something like a genre action/thriller (without extensive rewriting). I can't, however, decide whether it is more of a comfort or an anxiety to work this way. It's actually comforting to not have to plot, to not worry over what happens next and what follows that, to just open a vein as they say. But it's also worrisome. Writing takes work, and what if you write yourself into a corner three/quarters of the way through a book? How much time and effort might you waste when a little forethought would have saved you?
Maybe there's a reason why Jim's work is mostly novella length. Maybe there's a reason why many of my favorite reads are on the shorter side of novel length. As a reader, I feel the passion, the exploration, the freedom that writer's such as Jim Sallis bring to their work. There's nothing mechanical, no place where you become aware that Screw A goes into Part B. The work grows around you, grows over you, as if you're a fallen log lying quietly in the forest as the seasons pass.