Tag Archives: Writer

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

I finished reading A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut a couple of days ago and found it a little disappointing. The book felt like Kurt dropped a box of post-it notes at my feet and said “well, I’m out to lunch.” Being the observant reader, I was able to take home a few nuggets of value away from the text though. First and foremost is his quote about the arts. This has been circling social media outlets for some time but I enjoy repeating it.

If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding [his way of making sure the reader knows he’s not being sarcastic from earlier in the book]. The arts are not a way of making a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.  (p. 24, Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York)

How can I argue with that? It dovetails into my quote from watching Press.Pause.Play. The arts aren’t about money, anyway. Really. Sure, we’d all like to roll around on a bed full of money a la Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal, but how many of us will really cash in on that? How many of us have the real support of the people around us and others who know how to make stuff happen for writers, actors, comedians, etc.? We can’t all be professional writers. We all can’t be baseball players. We all can’t be Hollywood-types.

There’s just too many of us, and some of us have friends in very high places. It’s a game to some, but not me. It’s only a game when you make it about money. At this point in my minute existence, all I want is to leave something behind much like a slug that leaves a trail over a sidewalk. You may get the same sense of discomfort or disgust while reading my work, too. Good on you.

The current book I’m reading is Unleashing the Ideavirus by Seth Godin, and he would say it’s not a matter of technical ability or money. To him, it’s a matter of creating an idea to circulate material to as many people as possible. This kinetic, wide-eyed thinking is the amusement I miss in my economics classes back in the day. It totally misses the point, the one I just told you in the last paragraph. This is not to be confused with an “it’ll sell itself” attitude, because that’s not what’s being discussed.

Vonnegut also spoke of how he was regarded at English departments. “Critics feel,” he writes, “that a person cannot be a serious artist and also have a technical education, which I had.” (p.15) This is very meaningful to me, as I’ve found myself in the same boat. What I have to ask myself is “do I want to be recognized as a ‘serious artist’?” It’s a legit question, and I suppose I couldn’t say at this point. Maybe if I were younger I’d be gung-ho about the idea. Now, I’m not so sure.

At any rate, I’m still here. I’m still breathing, writing, and working. Maybe someday I can look back and laugh at this? I certainly hope so, because it’s pretty damned depressing.

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Mixed Messages

There’s a lot of writing advice out there. If you’re the type of reader I am, you would have said, “no shit” after you read that sentence. However, it embarrassingly bears repeating as I still find many new writers (sometimes myself) unsure on how to move themselves with their words.  I’ve observed quite a few people, and it seems now I understand what happens.

People are a variation on a theme. We have similar experiences, traits, emotions, languages, and so on. On the other hand we have different interpretations based on those experiences, traits, emotions, languages, etc. Two people could experience the same event and come away with two different thoughts. These thoughts and reactions are not to be considered infinite, as there’s a reason emotions can be displayed on a wheel, there are only so many words in the English language and languages on the planet. There will be some common ground for everyone.

However, what I find when listening to authors is advice can contradict one another. For example, let’s take quote from Anaïs Nin:

If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.

Now let’s sidle that up against a commencement speech with Neil Gaiman:

These paths are very different. One is that of a quasi-Quaker speaking when the spirit moves her, and the other is the that of the child constantly writing but only when it isn’t work. How does that work? Simple, it doesn’t.

What needs to happen is that the writer needs to take charge of his or her life and respond to what resonates. That requires more thought on the part of the writer, as they are the ones who know themselves better than anyone else (or so I’d hope). It’s like going to the doctor and being diagnosed with an illness you know isn’t right. Why? Because you are feeling the symptoms first hand and are asking a secondary source to tell you what is wrong. Granted, there are some very good diagnostic doctors out there, but I only have access to the budget variety. No offense, doc, but your services aren’t sterling.

This whole notion of tailoring advice reminds me of a brilliant young writer I caught on here trying to decode Ernest Hemingway. In his own right, he has made valuable contributions to literature. That’s something I acknowledge, even if I think he’s a pompous windbag. He also spoke in what I call “red herring,” a dialect Hell bent on confusing you. This is one of the reasons I severely dislike Joyce, by the way. When speaking in riddles, please don’t feed the egos. I’m convinced if this young author took a step back and listened for advice not coming from big-name writers, her personal picture would have been much more clear.

I will shoot you right between the eyes and say I am neither a Nin, Gaiman, or Hemingway. I am the machine. I am the gun steel mecha-man that needs to crank and crank and crank and crank and work and work and work and work but evaluates what he’s cranking out and is only satisfied when it dazzles him. That’s my path to achievement, but it very well may never be yours. That’s for you to decide. It’s your rodeo, after all.

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The Writer’s Toolbox

When I was younger, I was volunteered to help with home improvement. This ranged from framing to decking to landscaping, et cetera. I was the cheap labor, and am under the impression this was true for many middle-class Americans who didn’t quite have the cash to hire it done. It’s expensive.

The weekend festivities usually took place about 9:00 AM with intermittent breaks throughout the day. Breaks all depended on how quickly my father tired out. We’d grab our tool belt and head toward the direction of the problem, be it inside or out. Saturday mornings often had an unusual crispness in the summer months. The grass had a few hours of not being burnt and it was too early for the heat and haze of the day to distort anything. It was a rather pleasant experience.

An electric screwgun used by drywall mechanics...

Pew! Pew! Pew! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As time progressed, we’d often find ourselves going back to the garage for a tool we forgot. Sometimes we didn’t have what was needed, and that resulted in a trip (or two… or three…) to the hardware store. Whether we were creating concrete forms or hanging drywall, there were always tools to make the job easier. That is to say easier than through alternative methods. For example, there is a screwdriver specifically made for hanging drywall. This is much more effective than using a regular screwdriver.

There is an expression to identify when an object is associated with a particular profession. When one is presented with an item related to a specific industry, we often hear the phrase “the tools of the trade.” After living so many years of my life, I’ve noticed this similarity with all professions. Trades will have uniquely identifiable sets of accoutrements. They even get nicknames by people who use them the most (i.e. “dikes” for diagonal pliers).

After a few months of semi-serious work in literature, it has occurred to me the writer is no different. Aside from the pens, pencils, paper and word processors, there are writing techniques that serve as tools of the profession. Need to create a pause? Understand the different types of punctuation. Need to be specific in a description? Use commas, or occasionally, the hyphenated chain of words. All of this is neatly (or not so neatly) stored in a writer’s toolbox.

The tricky part is knowing when you have a tool. It’s not like running to Lowe’s and dropping money on a brad nailer or bastard file. Identification is settled at that point, and you understand its function and value. With writing, a tool is intangible and initially undefined. A novice writer may not know what tools they have at their disposal to convey a point.

English: A profession shot of the Maestro Will...

Maestro Williams knows when a colleague is blowing smoke out their ass. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I separate this idea of “tools” from “techniques,” as techniques are more about style. Techniques are what distinguish writers from each other. Basic sentence structure, grammar, and word choice all have a more constructive feel to them. It’s like making a stud wall. The hammer and nails form the frame, the drywall and mud make the surface, but the paint and paper give it style.

When properly identified, that tool becomes an indelible part of your writing toolbox. It may never be employed in your writing, but you’ll be aware of its existence. Other professionals will suggest the removal or replacement of certain tools. This happens in any profession. I can remember the difference in opinion on using 10-keys (adding machines) or the calculator provided by Microsoft Windows. In that regard, I’m not here to tell you what should be done with your tools. Every writer has the right to use the tools they have at their disposal. What I am suggesting though is to keep an eye out for anything that looks like a literary tool. Unlike the ones in your garage, these won’t take up any space at all. The more tools you have at your disposal, the better the chances of creating better pieces. After all, it takes more than a chisel and hammer to sculpt marble.

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Splitting Attention and Image Reflections

I’m finally at the point in My City by the Bay where I’m going to be posting stuff that no one else has yet seen. I can see plenty of you rolling your eyes right now. You keep making faces like that young ladies and young gentlemen, and it’ll stay that way. You mark my words!

Regardless, for myself and the handful of others following along, I think that will be good news. I certainly haven’t finished, nor do I know how I’ll finish the story, but I’m sure it’ll tell me when I get there. I read an article about why writers love to write, and one reason was “…because we’re the puppet master.”

Now, I don’t know about the other writers but I do know about myself. What I’ve certainly noticed is that I often question the control I have over my own stories. Sometimes they form on the paper, and I feel like I have little say in it. I could never see myself as the “puppet master.”

I loosely consider myself a writer, and not by occupation. I don’t get paid to write; I get paid to do accounting. For established veterans in the literary world, this may seem laughable or galling. Quite frankly, there isn’t any comment they can make that an entire class of grade school kids haven’t mastered. Kids are much more cruel. Trust me.

With all this free wheelin’, gun shootin’ display of foolishness (as the logical, shrewd writer would want as much money out of their work as possible), I’m starting another long story. It may be long enough to make into a novella, as it’s a blank slate. It has political viewpoints, philosophical viewpoints, and I have to build characters from the ground up. I actually like creating characters.  As a child, I didn’t have a whole lot of friends. I ended up creating entire casts of characters in my head anyway.

Enough of Memory Lane. I’ve been ticketed flying down that road before.

This brings me to the point of the post. I’m fussing over splitting my attention between two stories or finishing one and starting another. Has anyone wrote multiple stories at once? Did they find it manageable? Were they disappointed in the outcome? I’d normally do this myself, but don’t want to waste the 3-6 months in trial and error, when I could simply get feedback from other writers right now.

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