The very fact that I’m far too tempted to kick this off with a completely senseless and resounding “fuck” should give any reader a fair pause as to my general ability or worthiness to speak on any subject, however mundane or inconsequential.
I decided, however, not to start off with such blatant and unexplained vulgarity and open by writing about the desire to ante up with a simple “fuck.” The random usage of crude vernacular has no bearing, whatsoever, on the meat of this piece, other than to accentuate the fact that I shouldn’t even be writing this piece in the first place.
Indeed, let’s review: I am currently not living off of any profits from writing, I cannot aver slyly to my building fan base and strong internet presence, and my rejection letters are so nondescript that one can only infer that they were cut and pasted to me by the address line. I am merely a cat that likes words and decided long ago that, regardless of pay, I’ll continue to hack and slash with pens and keyboards at things that tickle my fancy with words that taste pretty.
Cut scene to an interior shot of a kitchen and a young woman that I find to be intelligent, a little sassy, and more than a tad groovy. We’ll call her Raven for little reason more than it amuses me to do so. While sipping my seemingly ubiquitous beer Raven confesses an interest in writing and asks a rather open and possibly only polite question as to options for a career in such. Asks me. Oh, dear Jesus (and pogo sticks). I respond as best I think I can at that moment, but I’m stuck on it now. Here follows some things I’ve been dwelling on; advice on how to write from one who is not successful at all on that front.
My dear Raven, I apologize before-hand on contributing to your failure, but here are the things that did not work in the slightest for me, but have attributed greatly to my pleasure in writing.
1. Read. Duh. It’s the pat answer, but read; read everything: the things you love, the things you hate, the things that make no sense, and the things that are self-evident without someone else’s input. In between books, plays, poetry, newspapers, and magazines read cereal boxes, instructions on toothpaste tubes, and, yes, even sparkly vampires, then question them continually. Find those authors that carry their voice so forwardly and so successfully that they cannot be denied. I specifically recommend to you: Hunter S. Thompson and his gonzo journalism (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, of course, but also Great Shark Hunt), Kurt Vonnegut (maybe starting with Cat’s Cradle, but I second guess myself wondering if you should try Timequake and work backwards), Tom Robbins (I’d say kicking off with Still Life With Woodpecker is a good idea), dear old Robert Anton Wilson’s Historical Illuminatus trilogy is great for the blend of fact and fiction, Dorothy Parker for wit and metre,…enough; read greedily.
2. Write. Duh, again. What else might you do? Write daily; a line, a poem, a page, a pun. Use the best thing you have in everything. Do not save a good line or idea, trust yourself to have another; you will. Some anonymous blogger recommended that and I cannot agree more. Do not hold back and explore. As a writer you’re actor, singer, dancer, choreographer, director, hero, villain, and, no doubt, scapegoat. Beg, borrow, steal from others, impersonate them, draw inspiration from them, mock them, laud, and/or deny them. Everything comes from something. In this equally greedy need, write in every frame of mind, but edit only in the clearest (and when you get this practice down pat, teach it to me). I say further, write in every manner that appeals to you. Write concisely, write nonsense, in prose, in meticulous metre; write in your voice (which will change, trust me), in others (which will change to you, trust me, again), write descriptions, write mood, write cause and effect, write tablespoons and temperatures, theses of existential absurdism, Commedia dell’arte or Rusian realism, color your fonts, adjust your paragraph indenture, sideways your stanzas, use semi-colons extensively, or eschew all punctuation as proletariat, misuse words to make a point or just to develop a thought (or even as the impetus towards one), play with the form; but, most importantly, know why you do it (even if it’s just for the sake of doing it).
3. Develop an interest in everything. As an author you’re the original go-to, the creator. Description is a form of creation, a naming. Naming, in turn, is a form of ownership, of power. Power may have invented the pen, but curiosity endowed it with any force it may have today. Look, listen, feel, and question again. Learn to be wrong and learn to be misinterpreted. (Remember Korzybski: Whatever you say a thing is, it isn’t.) Mark this, your readers will find their own meanings in the simplest and seemingly most direct statements. Embrace that. Your writing will take on another life long after the ink has dried. Even cereal boxes do not escape the beauty and barbarity of interpretation.
4. In this line of thought: write it and let it go. Publishing is relinquishing. Once out of your grasp it belongs to you no more and the reader owns what they will, all your desires and intentions be damned. On that front, be prepared for remorse. I know of few writers that are truly happy with what they’ve done or the response to it. You’ll be proud, no doubt, but you’ll also likely be riddled with dissatisfaction, as well. I could be wrong (I often am), but I suspect that ugly horse will rear its head your way, if it hasn’t already. That said, feed the ego and continue. You must be assured that your voice is worth hearing.
5. Here’s where things may get a bit dicey. Crosswords. Learn to eat up the useless, no longer relevant, and utterly esoteric bits of language. Butter your biscuits with verbiage. Know that adit and ort will out about as much as catachresis, but savor those words, even when sautéed in a wrong-sauce. Build your vocabulary and know that half those words will fail you. Flaubert would agonize over a single word and still got translated by strangers into English, but he knew the effort of his endeavor. Realize with every sentence that you could’ve said it a dozen different ways, but chose the one that fit your moment.
6. Dicey again. Look at the things that others aren’t. Never shy away from the seemingly unrelatable. Watch movies no one sees, listen to music no one buys, read books no one understands. Don’t be afraid to be part of an audience of two or to merely have an audience of one. Geniuses are, more often than not, heretics and largely misunderstood. New ideas are rarely popular and popular ideas are rarely new.
7. Another age-old standard: prepare for and embrace the rejection. It will happen. I say few things with such damnable assurance of knowledge, but you will be rejected in some form or another. Do with them what you will. Burroughs cut up his bad reviews and collaged them into found art concepts. Wilson adopted his self-accepted mantle of guerilla ontologist from a scathing remark on his writing. Don Quixote was published only with the consent of the king. The world has always been inundated with artists and technology has opened the floodgates to a measure heretofore unseen by the masses. Do not let those masses or the elitist or the editors of high profile magazines (the New Yorker has a nice form letter of rejection, by the way) deter you. You write because you cannot do otherwise and there’s not a damn thing wrong with that. Hemingway once said something along the lines of: anyone who writes for free is a fool. Maybe it was Hemingway; I’ve disagreed with him enough to attribute the quote to him today. I figure anyone decent who attempts to write against whatever odds.
Raven, I say run with it. Write because it’s something you want or need to do. Never let anyone, least of all me, ever accuse you of selling out or of being too esoteric. I hope you’ll read these ideas and throw them out utterly. I’d like to see you prove me wrong and run with it. Personally, I’d dig the hell out of that.
And, for good measure, “fuck.”