I am deeply suspicious of any writer who thinks that writing about writing is the right way to go about it. This is a problem, because so many people think the right way to start writing is to feverishly scribble down the one lousy thing they were given to say in their lives, and then they just spend the rest of the time doing that (1).
While I sure hope I have things left to say, I do think I’ve spent enough time in front of a blank page making words appear to talk about what Hubert Dreyfus would call ‘the real phenomenon’ of writing. That is, the experience of doing it, of setting yourself to the physical process and not letting go until it’s done resolving itself. I don’t think this is anything special. It is perfectly accessible to anyone willing to do it.
There is some garbage that culture tells itself regarding what it’s like to write, and I’d like to get it all out of the way, just so I know where I stand on the matter. If you like it too, all the better! Don’t get sucked in by people who think in the following terms. They’re charlatans.
I. ‘Divine Madness.’
Hemingway never said ‘write drunk, edit sober.’ Having done it myself, it’s a terrible idea. I’ve only seen it work once in person, and while it did really work, I’m not convinced the guy who pulled it off wasn’t a genius anyway. In history, as well as in all things, Bukowski is the exception.
Don’t align things like creativity and things like self-destruction. It’s too easy, and too cheap. If I had a penny for every college colleague who lived the idea that Bacchus was optreme angle from which to approach the process of producing a thing– this could include academic work and essays– then I’d have maybe around ten bucks, which I could then spend on a book that was actually good.
The mistake is understandable. If it hurts like love, smells like love, and feels like love, it must be love, right? Wrong. Detecting the loss of your ego could be a sign you got your self out of the way long enough to produce something you couldn’t expect. That’s a sign of good writing. Or it might be a sign that you’ve blasted yourself out of your mind on something prescription or non-prescription.
I like Hunter S. Thompson as much as the next guy, but even he admitted that he could never keep up with his own press. Fitting way to go for a newspaper man.
II. That the Writing is Yours; That it Comes from You.
If it’s true that you have to get yourself out of the way for anything good to come, and it is, then you can’t be the place that it comes from. Because remember, you aren’t so much more than just a bundle of preconceptions about the thing trying to be born through your skull.
The myth of the birth of Athena is archetypal, and as anxious as Jungian analysis makes me these days, I’m tempted to point out the ways in which the myth needs to mirror the truth.
All the plans and structures in the world can only get you so far when you have to confront the page at the end of it. You don’t get anything good without risking carpal tunnel or RSI. That means scribbling out and replacing, frequently. I’m not saying this to sound cool, or exclusive, or elitist– I’m just saying it because it’s true.
The reason why it helps to put down the pages of pre-determination and make is because only when you really enjoy the process of making do you and your preconceptions fuck off for long enough for something good to happen. Just trust it, cause it will happen. And when it does, it can be glorious, and that’s the gamble.
(1): I say this while apologizing to Quentin Tarantino, whose Inglourious Basterds is really little more than writing about writing inasmuch as it is a film about films. That said, it remains one of the single finest god damn films I’ve ever seen, not because it was art, but because it was good. I don’t think he was one of those people I demean.