Wednesday, April 23, 2003

talking writing

Last night, Jason and I spent time editing a manuscript and talking about writing. We began at Angelino’s (which closed) then moved to Brewer’s (whose vocalists had a wonderful rendition of One Note Samba).

Before we knew it, it was past midnight.

Conversations about writing always engage me. Not because I think I have something to teach, but because I enjoy thinking about writing as much as I enjoy actually writing.

It is never a matter of inspiration then plugging away at a processor. For me there is an internal intellectual process that goes hand-in-hand with the inexplicable, the intuitive, the so-called “genius”. It is important for me to understand what I am doing, why I am doing it, who I am doing it for, how I will do it and in what form it will be completed. Talent provides the spark and the oomph, but it is technique that gets you through.

My relentless internal critic is difficult to assuage. I wish I could just hand him a cigarette and tell him to wait until the final final final work is done, then bash it to bits. But every point in my process is exposed to my internal critic, and it does not hamper me. If you think about it like a chocolate candy production line, I have a masked lady who watches over the conveyor belt and removes sweets that do not pass a certain standard.

I am most brutal with myself, of course.

Here’s one of my rules as a writer: Do not fall in love with yourself or your writing. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that your talent is enough.

There is no way for your internal critic to help you grow if it is reduced to token appearances and blind praise. You need to know when what you’ve labored for over the span of hours or months is drivel. You need to know when you’ve taken the easy route, whipping your dick out and jacking off for your readers – please please stop it. You need to know when there is a salvageable kernel of beauty somewhere in the dross. You need to know when to shoot yourself in the head and when to smile and say “Shit, that fucking works.” You need to be harshest with yourself – because unless you find an honest, competent judge of your writing, you need to take the opinions of your circle of friends and readers with a cargo ship of salt.

And you need to be able to describe what you do and why you do it. You should be able to think about writing, your writing, someone else’s writing. You are a writer, after all, so certainly you have no lack of words.

You do not need to have have been published to think about writing (though to certain people, you need those credentials), but make certain that you have firm grounding and sound fundamentals.

You do not need to have won an armful of awards to talk about writing (though to some, you need to be covered in glory to even begin talking about cratf), though make sure that what you opine has constructive value.

You do not need to have won a Fellowship at UP or Silliman to be a serious writer (though you could be snubbed by elite writerly circles), instead, set your standards high and keep exceeding them.

What you need to do is to read. Learn. Critique. And write like there's no tomorrow.

Work at it.


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