This blog has been effective at turning over the rocks from my childhood, dreams and half-realized works. The Young Chronicles in particular has been telling as it reveals my lack of identity; I distinctly remember having clarity when I was eight years old and then none on my hitchhiking trip eleven years later.
I was always on edge, unsure of where I was, scared to camp alone, scared on the side of the road, scared of riding in stranger’s cars. I wanted to be somewhere else and, when I got there, somewhere else again.
A pause is needed in writing. Otherwise it’s just going straight ahead with half things trundled out, the ride getting faster, the wheels getting wonky, leaning to the side and then the other, into an impossible turn which spins so tight that it becomes a centrifuge. And the reader has long since gone.
The writer needs to take a break and breath, step back to make sense of it, find what is working and what is not. Think about other things. And then, bang! Fewer conversations about assault and misery, and more things happening. Best to go with that.
A close friend recently texted me: Write what you know. It’s good advice, like Keep It Simple Stupid or Seize the Day. Then again, what if I stay in bed too long? Make it slightly complicated? And I just don’t know?
I’m writing a speculative trilogy about going to another planet, which is something that I know nothing about. But I do know about promise and failure. I know I think of my flaws as attributes. I know that there is a fine line between when to choose the sensible thing and the brave. I know that I am as self centered and mean spirited as the rest. And I know that I will be alone in the end.
And so it becomes jumbled. Yes, I know what I know. But I think I know too much of that. It might come clear in my dreams, but who wants to hear about that? I’ll tell you about my mother. Actually I think I already did.
So here’s the story: Guy writes a blog for eight years and then writes that one true thing that gets shared to every corner of the galaxy and becomes the soothsayer for all. Share that!
I want to write like music. I want to write in a sustained sound. I want to write in a loop that goes around, on and on. I want to write with never-ending tension. I want to write like the opening of a door, the scuffle of feet, the distant sound of something coming soon.
I want to write like I dream and see my mother, looking young and sharp, in the car with me to the airport, our bags overflowing out the back, a starship flier picking us up before we even get there, continents vanishing in steam.
I want to write like it was left unsaid, like eyes see. I want to write in a burrow, like roots to rocks. I want to write words that mean something else in their unconscious self.
I am deep into this blog now (eight years and 1,250 posts) and so this is as good a time as any to finally take a swing at that. What is this blog? Why am I doing this? My writing process! Let’s see if I can narrow that down to a few tips.
ONE: Your process is a personal thing. You can’t just do what people tell you to do. You have to figure out your own process. Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond Series, wrote every morning and then went for a swim. Woody Allen writes longhand. I text myself notes on the fire escape.
It can take forever because I am all thumbs (literally) and the typos and formatting are an issue, but I feels like it works. (That said, whatever you do, don’t email yourself notes from the same account as that confuses Gmail, which then labels all of your emails to yourself as junk.) You just have to figure out routine works best for you.
TWO: Maintain a work ethic. Like my father always said, “Life is work. If you don’t like work, then you’re going to have a tough time in this life.” Writing doesn’t happen by osmosis. You have to do the work. There is just no getting around that.
THREE: Watch what goes on around you in life. Look at the details – how people move their hands, how they walk and scroll, how they look back at you – and write it down. The best characters (read: biggest fuck-ups) are right in front of you.
The only problem is that people are all boring as hell in the end and you’ll have to clean that up – in other words, make it fiction.
FOUR: Move around. Do something. Get outside. A moving brain is a thinking brain. Go for a walk. Take a hike. Go jump in the lake. (More advice from my father.)
The more you move, the more your brain gets going. It’s called kinetic thinking. This is especially important when you’re stuck in the story. When you start to move around and think about that – the moving that is – the narrative solutions tend to pop into your head.
FIVE: Write what you know. Write the exact thing that is in your head. Write it. Name the names. Name the jerks you know. Describe them exactly as they are.
Don’t worry about what anyone might think. Not your partner, not your mother, not your kid, not even you. Nobody. That’s the prime stuff, the lunacy of people. Let yourself go nuts on that. That’s where everything is to be found.
SIX: Review and edit. And then edit it again. And when you’re done that, you guessed it. Edit again! Maybe then you might be ready for an editor.
SEVEN: Do the research, whatever is needed. Read up on the backgrounds of everything that you can. Visit the places. Do it for anything that comes up, the park that’s outside the building, the people walking past, the plane overhead. Read about whatever it is.
The most fulfilling reading will always be non-fiction – even if it is fiction. Biographies, the most fictitious of all, are the most revealing. Tales of exploration too. Those are the fullest.
EIGHT: Don’t listen to any of the experts. Screw them all. They are writing about it because they don’t know any better. Like me. Forget about the plot points. Disregard character arcs. There is no structure to any of this. Let your story unfold as it is. Let the characters live their lives.
My failure as a writer runs deep, with successes few and far between. I won a short story contest in Grade Four, received an honorable mention in a Hires Root Beer contest, wrote film reviews in college, sports for community newspaper, ad copy for Toto toilets, was accepted to a Kenyon College writing program and most recently serialized a speculative novel for which the publisher lost interest.
The failures are much more profound – nothing published, nothing at all, after 40 years – a few friends who bother to read anything. Not that I write this for sympathy but rather to underline the reality that despite all of this, I still feel the writer, still, as Patricia Highsmith says, only know myself when writing things down.
Coming to terms with who I am, remembering the pain and mistakes, not negating, just coming to understand the little wounds and think on the words that give those cuts dimension, not just typing to see the night to the end, but that essential thing coming out like riding my bike into the half dead forest, stripping down, throwing everything away and being naked. It’s the only thing. Or insufferable. One of the two.
Post-humous publication appears the best of chances – to be remembered by a species devolving into apps – and together we go into the ether..
I now know, or think I know, that I should only write what I know. I liked writing as a teenager and kid, but it wasn’t anything big. I just had a compulsion to write things down – travelogues, ratings for movies, things like that. When it came to writing stories, I was a clod, convinced that I had to write about important things, be philosophical, and I was really bad at that. (Expect examples to be forthcoming.) I didn’t write about me, about being a teenager, and that I didn’t like being a teenager or kid because I thought being a teenager was a stupid thing.
I didn’t write about that feeling of being stupid, never being happy with who or what I was, where I fit, because I didn’t – fit, that is. I wanted something else, something I couldn’t figure out. And so I pretended that I knew and wrote like that, instead of this, which, good or not, is what I know.It’s my voice, pathetic but real. I can be almost happy to share my embarrassment, my regrets and humiliations, my spasms. I’m getting better at that, better at understanding that the more I let it be what it is, the more to the point, the clearer my understanding of something – I don’t know what – becomes.
For one thing, I’m not much for Christmas. I liked it as a kid, the promise of it, but that was over by 8 am, lost among the heaps of wrapping paper and stacked-up stuff. I looked for it on the TV after that, but there were just cartoons and a dreadfully long dinner to come. As an adult, it’s so much worse, the desperation of trying to get back to something that never was, wearing elf hats, miming good cheer, taking pictures of each other looking stupid doing that. I am happy to be generous, but that does not mean having to listen to the drivel of siblings and offspring. No, I would rather do what makes me happy instead, yes, writing about that.