Tuesday, May 19, 2009

There are other worlds than these

If I had a choice what to do with my time, I would write. Spend my days hunched over a laptop, tappin' away. Creating worlds. Crafting words.

I think a lot of people nurture dreams of writing. “If only I had the time I would write a novel”, and all that. I have spent some time wondering why this is. And I've come to the conclusion that I can only answer for myself. I have no idea why others want to write. Do you? Do you want to write, and if so, why? Tell me.

For me, it's all about worlds. A word, a phrase, a picture, a movie, a smell, can trigger a landslide of images and words inside my head. If I don't get them out, by writing them down, I think I would go mad. Seriously, full-blown, off the wall crazy.

There's a theory that every writer has two personalities inside of him, sometimes working together, sometimes in all-out war. Here's my take on that.

There's the Writer, who's the creative font, the one that can sit down and write hundreds of words without meaning, just to write. Just to see the pen move across the paper, or fingers across keyboard. He's the guy that stands up at the party and recites poetry, perhaps not correctly, but with passion and a smile on his face.

The Editor, on the other hand, is all about rules and regulations, structure and grammar. Creating something with no substance and, even worse, no form, is anathema to the Editor. There has to be a beginning, a middle and an end, and a clear path leading from one to the next to the last, preferably before he even sits down to write. Mindmaps and outlines and synopses are his favored tools. He's the guy who corrects the guy standing up at the party reciting poetry. And smirks while he does it.

For those of you that know me, it should come as no surprise that my Editor is stronger than my Writer. I'm a planner and a control freak. My Writer spends most days in a dusty corner of my mind, bound, gagged and blindfolded, while my Editor spends two weeks dissecting a single sentence, over and over and over. When he has a bad day he goes over and pulls a couple of the Writer's fingernails, just to watch him squirm.

I've read some books on writing, and discussed the craft a lot in the writing class (the good one) I've taken, where the idea of morning writing sessions has come up. This is the idea that you should get up an hour earlier every day and write. Keep the pen or fingers moving, regardless of what comes out. Even if you just write “I can't write. I can't write. I can't write” for sixty minutes. The very idea makes my Editor run around screaming in my head. Maybe that's why I have The Headache...

I need structure to write. Peace of mind. Time. Sure, an idea may come to me at the oddest moment, and I write it down, usually in my phone or in an email I send to myself, like a little treasure for me to unearth and polish a few days later. But if I try to sit down and just write, let the words flow, I feel miserable with the meaningless shit that comes out. Words without meaning have no meaning. On occasion, I've had what the class calls “a writing frenzy”, but it's a rare occurrence and even when I do, I manage to write something that has meaning and that I can edit into something worthwhile. “I can't write. I can't write. I can't write” over and over says nothing to me except that: I can't write. And I know that ain't true.


ege said...

I write because I just do. It happens. And I guess in the same way a photographer feels the urge to snap a pretty tree (or whatever), I'm compelled to write down every pretty phrase that occurs to me. Then, if I'm very lucky, I find a way to string them together later.

I completely understand the urge to re-write. I am right now endlessly re-working the first six pages of a chapter instead of embarking on number seven. It's more fun; it can always get better; and it always is better than a first draft. But the first draft has got to happen before the second one can, and the third, and the fourth, and the seventh...

I don't want to sound pedantic, but I do encourage you to try "just writing" more. Not endless repetitions of "I can't write" -- that's crap -- but something, anything, even if it doesn't stir. Because if you start out describing something relatively mundane, and let your brain relax, you really never know where it might take you. 95% of it will probably be crap, but if you accidentally sneeze out one good turn of phrase, that just might be something you can build on.

And I know, I hear you, it does hurt to see crapola coming out. But nothing says you have to keep it after. Think of it like a warmup before a football game. Sometimes you'll run for a touchdown and sometimes you won't -- but you sure as shit ain't going to Canton if you refuse to get up off the bench.

(See what I mean? Sometimes it's crapola. But I try.)

Martin said...

Good thoughts here, both of you. I wish I could add something substantial, but I'm stuck with my usual permanent "Hmm"-face.
I write (want to write) because I like seeing words form by my will, and I understand what you mean by going hair-pulling apeshit mad from lack of writing.
That said, my Editor is very much in charge as well. The Writer did his thing a few years ago, and he had a great run. Now he's on the couch, in a pile of his own despair, watching Lost. Ahem.

ege said...

I know, Writer, it is hard. But I (or, perhaps, my Editor) will tell you three things: one from me, and two from -- well, you'll see.

1. I was explaining to Johnny the other day: it doesn't always happen. At least 2/3 of the time, it doesn't happen. But I never know if it's going to happen until I sit down and try. So I sit down.

2. As Billy Crystal said in Throw Momma From the Train: A writer writes. Always.

3. I really don't usually go for the whole "writerly parasitical symbiosis" crap, but I have had this quote on my wall for years, and since he's sometimes dismissed, I thought I'd share. Truman Capote (who, you may or may not know, is one of my personal heroes) once said: "It's a very excruciating life facing that blank piece of paper every day and having to reach up somewhere into the clouds and bring something down out of them."

It is. It killed him in the end. But if you feel the urge, you've got to try.

Joel said...

I love to write, but I find that for the most part I am unable to unless there is some kind of emotional drive behind it.

I love being able to take an idea that showed up in my head and being able to describe it with enough integrity that someone else can not only understand it, they can run with it. When there's that connection with a reader where the words come off the page and take on a life of their own inside of someone else's head, I get a huge sense of accomplishment from that.

There's also an awkward selfishness about it all; for most of my life I was convinced that I did not belong anywhere, that I was a freak. That nothing I said or did made sense to anyone else. I've found since those earlier days that I may be different, but I am not a freak. I have found like-minded people throughout my life. And writing has helped me find those people and communicate with them.

Because I spent many years as a social recluse, I ended up spending a great deal of time honing my writing skills because I needed to vent. I needed an outlet. I needed to be able to get the thoughts out of my head so I could see them, accept them and deal with them. And the better I was able to describe what I was thinking and feeling, the better the feeling of absolution from everything was.

The better you are able to write and communicate, the more accurately others will be able to understand you. For me the goal is to minimize the chance of being misunderstood as much as possible with a wide range of people. And the only way to do that is to be able to write well. So maybe there's an element of validation that comes with it. But for the most part, it's all about finding connections with other people.