Tag Archives: howto

The Artist has a Split Tongue, too.

To have at hand a vessel

to restrain the dualness

of my heart’s polluted wrestle

its wisdom, foolishness.

I ever seek to edify

but in the wake of my creation

at once I criticize

my inspiration as inflation.

From The Blackbird Variations, 3 — Chapter 9.) Broken/Open

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Re: 90% of Writerly Advice on the Interwebnet

It feels like most of the writing advice that gets bandied about the talkosphere, a la “Awesome Writer’s 9 tips of Howto” boils down to:

  • Be straightforward
  • Don’t not be straightforward
  • Various variations on straightforwardness
  • There’s no way I can tell you how to do what you want to do, so just ignore my advice and write harder

Straightforwardness is great and awesome and magnificent at getting points across and captivating the audience and building a readership and making a ‘sure thing’ — but why aren’t there any 9 tips from James Lookitmereinventinglit Joyce or David Footnotefootnotefootnoteaside-thatruns300pages Wallace? Where’s the bastions of ambition? Where’s the brave author who espouses cleverness and trickery and tells us: “Psst, kid. You wanna know what writing is? It’s the imagination, made tactile. And you know what that means? It means that writing is infinite, and in it, anything is quite literally possible. However, it’s gonna take you f’n years to pull off, but if you work your fingers to the bone, experimenting the hell out of plot and character and language, you are going to make something that quite possibly has never been before.”

To be straightforward: An increase in complexity causes an exponential need for mastery. And what does mastery require? Not much. Just your life.

And there is an audience for hardmode literature. But they just happen to be hardmode themselves—they are not easily amused.

“The fool who persists in his folly shall become wise.” —Wm. Blake


How I have Failed as a Writer, Part I

Impressive stat number one: I estimate I have written close to 2 million unique words in the last sixteen years.

Realistic and contrary stat: I have had a total of 20 words published, and that was in an article on internet piracy, in which I was wrongly accused of copyright infringement, as well as misquoted.

Both of these stats will change in the next few months, because 1) I have decided to self publish and 2) I have figured out what my freaking problem is.

My problem, in a nutshell: I have been doing every possible thing with the written word except for doing the one thing people want to have done to them, through the written word—which is to be given a moment wherein they forget their own lives and the act of reading, and are “swept up” in a tale.

My problem, mashed into nutbutter(yum!):

There are two positive and two negative moments from my teen years that have effected me as an artist, and only last year, with the writing of The BBVv3, have I been able to pin-point and lay them to rest.

First the positives: at 14 I contracted mono and was blessed with being allowed to do independent study (I loathed my highschool, and the next year secured a transfer). In independent study I was given a book that I haven’t been able to find the name of. It was about right brain/left brain politics and brain storming and such, and it propelled me into written expression. Before then, I had written some stories here and there, but afterwards… Well, there was this girl, named Brittney. She was a year older than me and I knew her from youth group and because I was not so much a ladies man as a girl’s boy I hung out with her and her friends quite a bit. Then I started to have some feelings for her, and I put these feelings onto paper, and as soon as I did so, it was like I had dropped a match onto a in late summer Northern California prairie. I burned through page after page of… stupid stuff, but I noticed that my feelings actually became stronger and more distinct when I wrote them. And, presaging the addictions to come, I was hooked on the act of poetry—moreso than the girl it was nominally directed to.

The second positive, isn’t a specific incident, but I recall several moments in my teens and later where I would be consumed by a proto-physical creative urge. Almost sexual in its intensity, but rather than being focused in my loins, it seemed to radiate from the crown of my head, and I would end up climbing trees and onto roofs, or crawling under tables, brimming over with this almost nightmarish sensation of prescience-without-context. I can’t really describe it. But I knew it had to do with making art—or, making art was the only thing I knew that could act as a channel for this sensation.

So: the contraverse: this unfortunately has to do with my father, so I’m running a little too close to whining by bringing this up, but, in writing the previously linked autobiographical account of my early twenties, these two events really made some sense of the extremity and severity of my “rebellious” actions, post childhood.

At 15 my father found some poetry I had written to a girl—to the girl after Brittany, I think, for after she had convinced me I didn’t really like her, I found another object for my adoration to be ‘inspired’ by—and then another, and then another. But dad found one of these poems and he got quite angry at me for the language I was using. I wasn’t being sexual, but rather highly metaphorical, evoking grand natural imagery to evince the boundless charge of my feelings. He said that only God was to be spoken of in that manner. That only God can be loved like Mountains and Sunsets and great big old storms, and it was wrong of me—I’m not sure if he used the word blaspheme, but that was the connotation—to compare a mere girl to the grandeur of creation. Thereafter, I never showed him a thing I created, and if he came across any of my writings it seemed he would laugh when I was attempting to be serious, and become angry when I was attempting to be humorous. This caused me to have a very, very high standard, but also caused me 1) to hide myself, actually, scratch that, to obfuscate myself, and 2) to doubt the worth of everything I produced, to see its faults and to consider it ‘not good enough’.

The second incident is rather weird, and personal, but if we aren’t personal when we’re navel-gauzy [sic], then what’s the point?

So at 16 my parents took me aside and they told me that, after praying for me, they felt that I had “Something to SAY.” We were in a church and that church was on the boring side, and my parents were on the Pentecostal side, so there was a tension that somehow landed on my shoulders. After my siblings had gone to bed one night, we stayed up praying and they ‘anointed me’ with oil, saying, again, that I had some sort of God-delivered WORD to impart to our community.

This didn’t have an immediate effect on me. I had been graced with enough self-doubt to not feel myself the prophet all of the sudden, but the seed was planted: that whatever I ended up producing had to have a super-normal worth to it. Once I was out of their house and encountered the first wave of depression in my life, that weight sent me reeling into abuses of the heart and the nervous system and… not least of all… the English language.

(it’s dinner time now. part II forthcoming)


Going Pro (as an artist, as a critic)

There is a line between an amateur and a pro, and it isn’t making money, it’s realizing that one’s product is distinct from one’s person.

If a writer asks for your opinion, give it to him honestly. You do both your judgement and his work a disservice by pandering to the conceit of his “feelings.”

And beyond pointing out the wrongs and weaknesses, one might try to find what the other is attempting to do, and urge him to do it better; perhaps telling him to avoid X, Y and Z until he’s got A, B and C down.

But it is important, if one’s criticism is to be useful, to tailor it to the parameters of the work in question, and avoid the cliche’s of critique (i.e. “show not tell”) which, in a subtle way, exert a homogenizing influence on the creative process. Each work of art really only works well when it is in tune with itself. This is what makes writing so damn hard, and why critiques often miss the mark.

In the end, if his desire to be a good writer is stronger than his desire to be liked, he will buckle down and put in the time and effort required. And, should you strive to make your critique a work of art, then the art of writing itself will be enriched by your contribution.


Existentialism and Children’s Music

After reading an internet discussion about post-modern art appreciation, I began thinking about a song I had written, ostensibly for children, about tragedy and death — and I felt prompted whip up some thoughts on “suitability” and “morbidity” in children’s entertainment.

Here are the lyrics and a music player that should work. Feel free to skip ahead to the chatter, if poetry and music bog you down (there is no shame in this!)

Boom boom, shakin’ the broom
Upside mama’s tomb
It’s true she died too soon
Boom boom shakin the broom (x2)

Then my dad, he went mad
Had to wear a straight jacket
And in the ward he had a heart attack
And its so sad dad had gone mad (x2)

Then my sis, she got kissed
By a man who was like a tempest
She tried to run but he wouldn’t be dissed
And he took her to his mountain fortress (x2)

Then my bro, he got low
Sorta disappeared in the snow
And where he went I still don’t know
If you see him would you give him this note (x2)

And as for me, as you can see
I’ve avoided that tragedy
That has claimed my family
But I’ve been runnin’ til I run outta steam (x2)

*

The question is: is there a place for morbidity in a child’s diet? Is there a place for sadness, depression and anger? There certainly has been — it is only in this past century that fairytales have been spayed, neutered, dethorned, and shaved of all bristles. And while I’m not against pre-chewed food for those who can’t eat steak — I have always been a little edgy, in my relationship with kids. I chide, I kid, I say things how I see them, even if it is a bit brash. On the other hand, when I come into contact with children’s media that is more pessimistic (read: mean) than wry, I find myself thinking: “You guys can do better than that.” But it’s the bitterness and not the depth or tragedy that I dislike.

Who will say that a kid does not understand, even a bit, what loss is. Sure, they do not obsess over death like they would a favored piece of molded plastic, but from simple observation you can see that every child experiences every part of the emotional spectrum, almost as if they were required to. An autodidactic Emotional Education, where the playground is both the locker-room, shower and racetrack.

So the—not problem, but speed bump, maybe, isn’t the kids. It’s us, the adults: we put the moral weight upon not just actions but experiences, we approve or disapprove, steering them clear as well we can from death, abuse, calamities of the mind and isolation and everything deemed “heavy” and “difficult.” We assume that these experiences are the dividing line between innocence and experience. Between what makes the child “pure” and the adult “jaded”.

And I do not know if that’s really the case. I mean, I believe that it’s unhealthy to wallow and brood over shame and rage and sorrow, and yet when we are taken up in those states, when life brings hardship, it is necessary to fully feel those things. Not to run from them or suppress them, but, in the very least, to be present with them. Acknowledgement — an honest and exacting measurement of the state we are actually in — is the first step toward recovery. True recovery, not a temporal plastering of the levy, but feeling the full furloughing flood, and building the dyke back up when the waves have washed out.

(A Jung quote comes to mind: “Neurosis is the avoidance of necessary suffering.”)

So perhaps this song is a “special purposes” song, not for regular day-to-day use, but for times when consolation and commiseration seem impossible.

In summation: When the darkness is at its deepest, maybe it’s best not to ignore it, or forcibly drowned it out with faux-joy and psuedo-smiles, but rather to sing along with it, until a chance wind comes through and clears it away.


the PREantePENultimate POST

From another r/writing thread

Some superfluous advice for the Beginning Writer:

Make sure you read as much as you can. Branch out of fiction, find a vein of philosophy you enjoy—that will help to build your thinking muscles for later on, when you’re ready or want to dip into deeper concepts.

(A semi-related anecdote: when I was a teenager I wanted to be a poet. I understood that poetry needs to be wed to music to garner the praise I was after, at least in the culture I’m from. And seeing as how I was shy and more often than not disappointed by the lyrics of the bands I liked, I decided to focus on writing stories instead. Years later, burnt out on stories, I picked up a guitar, and found that songs fell out of me, like rabbit poop scattering across the carpet. It puzzled me how much a struggle it was for the musicians I knew to finish a song—when, as a writer, all I needed was a good chord progression, a change or two, and the lyrics came on their own. I knew how to listen for them. Which goes to say: other pursuits will feed into your writing, and give you an advantage, or, rather, increase the value of your product. (As an aside, I can’t record music for sh*t, but I love writing songs, they alleviate my poetry compulsion))

Also, write for people and write for yourself. Get good at action sequences and descriptions, but experiment with language when you can. I believe that Writer’s Block is not so much an absolute block as an indication that your imagination wants to take things in a different direction. As the proverb goes: “There is always fruit in the forest.” So: be playful. Remember that the entirety of writing is a human construct, and there are no absolutes, only varying degrees of clarity, immediacy, and sympathy between writer and reader.