I think what I find hardest about being a writer--aside from, you know, actually getting my ass in gear and writing--is knowing my limitations. For instance, I am not someone who is particularly talented at writing comedy. This annoys me because, in actual life, I think I'm a relatively funny person. Either that or a lot of people humor me, because I seem to be fairly adept at making people laugh. If I try to do that on the page, though, I typically fail miserably. There are some exceptions, sure, but for the most part I'm good at sticking with being serious, or conversational at best.
Something else that I don't seem to be particularly good at is writing the strange and bizarre. I don't mean this simply in the sense of plot--I can come up with some weird shit, if you want to talk about that. What I mean is actually adopting a strange and unique writing voice. I can't write like David Foster Wallace, for instance, or Dave Eggers or David Mitchell, even. (What the hell is it with guys named David?) I'm not a guy whose writing will make you wonder what the hell is going on even while you quite enjoy whatever it is that is going on. I'm a traditionalist, I suppose. I'm a melodramatist, I suspect.
I do think I'm a decent writer, though whether or not I'm good enough to ever enjoy success as a professional author is yet to be seen. I like to think I am, but I don't know for sure. There are always doubts. However, I think I can do a pretty damn good job of writing people, of writing dialogue, of writing relationships and drama and melancholy, sorrow and contemplation and soft thoughts, haunting occurences, the sort of story that makes you feel like it's a rainy day or perhaps just a devastating one. I think I have a talent there and I'm happy about that. However, I sometimes wish I could do more. I sometimes wish I could be more strikingly original or funnier, more outright entertaining or outrageous. I envy, to a certain degree, those authors who seem to so effortlessly pull off such writing.
I realized all this tonight, in something of a stroke of insight, while I was reading a Tobias Wolff story from his collection, The Night In Question. It's a great collection and Wolff is a hell of an author, someone I would recommend you read if you never have before. I think a lot of what I see in him--enjoy in his writing--is the sense that it is similar to my own. He's not particularly funny, but he can be very insightful. He has this knack of throwing out these small insights or thoughts that strike me. He does it with certain imagery, as well, such as in the story "Lady's Dream," in which he writes, "She's in the kitchen running water into a glass, letting it overflow and pour down her fingers until it's good and cold." That image struck me hard, crisp and clear in my mind and completely fascinating to me. I don't even know why I found it so fascinating, but it's been knocking around inside my head all day, continually rising up and making me pause.
I've found the same sort of small observations and descriptions in works by both Charles Baxter and Richard Russo. It's one of the main reasons I enjoy the authors so much, because they have these small moments that fascinate me, that cause me to think and suddenly to feel like I have a slightly better grasp on life--a bit more of an understanding of this existence, even if in a form I cannot elucidate.
I suppose one of the greatest challenges of being a writer is understanding what your strengths are and where you shine. Then you have to be willing to focus on those strengths, though I would also suspect you don't want to be afraid to experiment and stretch, to try new avenues and techniques. The key is to understand when they are not working and to focus in on what is working, so that what you write stands out and captures the attention of the reader. I would suspect that successful, published authors have come to understand this concept.
Therefore, I will content myself with understated melodrama, if there is such a thing--there is in my mind, at least--and with the workings of characters and life, with pain and misery and--at times, certainly--with redemption and maybe even satisfaction. Perhaps if I recognize that those are the things I am most comfortable with writing about, that will lead to a greater success for myself and more attentive readers--when I have readers, that is.