A few Words, and the Process of Writing

By Phyzome is Tim McCormack (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons Croped & Text added by Me

By Phyzome is Tim McCormack (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Croped & Text added by Me

I am a bare beginner. I’m just starting to get to know other writers. I’m even learning how to get the illusive novel done. Yet, I have fought this thing for years, and figure I’ve learned enough to pass a few things along.

For some people, being a writer is inevitable. I am probably one of those people. I have been avoiding it for years, and will either be a writer, or a failed writer.  This I meet with shagrin. It’s not that I don’t want to be a writer. I– simply am, and these days it’s all about figuring out if I’m going to succeed or fail.  Basically, if I fail at this, it cannot be because it was ‘never meant to be’.  This is my vocation, and it’s up to me not to screw it up.

In this game, I do not think that being unpopular or even unread is a failure definition at this stage of my development (God help me). NO, for me, it is– can I produce quality work? Can I get it out there? Can I make this writing addiction work for my life– without wrecking other precious things?  Can I stop being distracted by things that are fun but don’t matter– that I could easily steal away  this opportunity?broken-heart

No, it’s not that I think that if this one try is ruined that it is always ruined. The problem is, I know me.  I get discouraged. The one thing I seem to have perfected is failure. Can I psych myself into having a chance at success if I manage to screw this one up? I like to think so.  But I don’t want to find out.  Because this time, the self destructive brat living inside my head won’t win.

I want to send her to hell to screw up the devil’s plans.  She might actually enjoy that. 🙂     In fact– that sounds like a good story.

If there is anything I’ve learned from a cadre of writers and fans polite enough to let me hang around, it’s this.  Use what you got– exploit it for the writing. Got a weakness– use it, it’s good for writing. Because everything– even you– especially you– is grist for the mill.  Has your life sucked? Good for you, you already figured out that life doesn’t give you want you want. That puts you ahead of the game. The trick is, to look at it in such a way that doesn’t lead to the same failure over and over again.  Trying to protect your pride is folly. But to take advantage of every screw up, embarassment, calamity and horror you’ve experienced is the only way to get good– and that means you have to get tough in a plastic way– like a reed, not the oak. Because an oak falls hard, and can only learn once.

But you still need your roots buried in the ground, or you have nothing to stand on, no lens through which to make sense of your experiences.   Relativism will never improve your life. It will just make it easier for others to exploit you.  Because those who pump it don’t believe it. They lie to themselves to make their lives work. Only the unsuccessful get close to living valueless lives.

Besides, that’s why most “literature” these days sucks. You can’t write a relativistic story with a satisfying ending, and you can’t live a life that has no set values, either.  Even a successful criminal has values.  (If you don’t believe me, read  Frank Abagnale)This is not a coincidence.  Because without morals or, if you must– ‘values’, there are no stakes, and your feelings are just floating in the ether making your life hell. That gauzy vagueness is not healthy for human beings. We need to know that something is true, and what is and is not permissible. Otherwise, we are in chaos– and failure is the ONLY option.

Sure sure, this doesn’t sound like putting pen to paper advice. But it is. This is the hard part.  Learning the language and how it flows, and how to structure things– all those are easy– or at least, only require study and hard work. You can read Little, Brown, or The Chicago School or whomever is the gatekeeper for proper expression in your book. I’ll get around to it some day– I mostly steal from them in dribs and drabs– holding loyalty only to the oxford comma. 😉

No, it is this— the elements that make a story great, that keep it focused, that display your characters in vivid relief, and makes them sing, dance and in 3D… that is the hard part. Knowing when to quit is the really hard part. Though admittedly, that’s more of a personal foible related to “loves to hear herself type”.  Still, it is so abstract and elementary that even materialists start sounding like philosophers of metaphysics when trying to explain it. Even undisputed masters of expression start falling into this trap. Samuel Delany comes to mind.

Many of them do this because they want a values-free discussion, to limit the listener in as few ways as possible.  But me, who knows very little, has learned a bit about life, and quite a bit about story. The values free discussion is impossible– or at least, is sophistry by definition.  I leave the rest to you- and a surprising amount of that depends on what kind of story you want to write.  A story is about achieving the good or not achieving the good– or maybe sort of achieving the good.  But there has to be a good… and it’s opposite. I’m tempted to say that the opposite of good is not bad, but indifferent.  Just as the opposite of love is indifference.  ‘Bad’ is a foil, a symbol for failure.  But sometimes,  it is Good VS Evil, and failure is not symbolic here. It is letting evil win.  But letting evil win is indifference in action.

Not writing is letting evil win.


Writing about Suicide

Beata_Beatrix,_cropYes, there’s a reason why I  haven’t published the suicide article yet.  For one thing, it consists of five jumbled, dense and emotionally charged pages.  These pages contain essential content about three different things–nominally all about suicide. I currently have it divided into two for the moment, and I don’t have time right now to edit it and add coherence.  At this point, I can’t even see how many articles best express this information cogently.

Suicide is a big topic, and it has a lot of relevance to my former  life. The usual ‘dash and go’ just doesn’t work here.  This is going to take a while.  Maybe Friday, maybe early next week. There’s editing and soul searching to go through yet.  Worry not! Should I experience another rough patch, I will get very annoyed and live anyway– just out of spite.  😛

What to do if your friend is suicidal

  1. 1. Be a friend. 
  2. Listen
  3. Don’t blame yourself; just about anything can be a trigger towards stability and life, or it’s opposite.

The third one of these sounds cold, crass and nasty– but it’s the truth.  A person standing on that precipice looks at everything through a different lens. It is hard to know how it affects things.  Sometimes, even if you do know that person, and think you know what that lens is doing, be aware that things change. People adapt, and it can be hard to know which way it could go.  The worst part about all this is the uncertainty.

Is Fiction Evil?


Woodwalker; retouched by Poxnar
Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

This started out as a comment on Sarah Hoyt’s article here, but it got so long I decided not to clutter her com box so much.

I had struggled with this idea for a long time. What got me to confront it head-on was a friend of mine in college. He had an inoperable brain tumor, a litany of health issues I can’t even name, and he believed that fiction was pure evil.

It was ironic, he was a scientific atheist but he believed that anything fictional was a lie, and therefore evil.

Sure, there were a few exceptions– he obsessively listened to Dr. Demento, and read political cartoons in newspapers. But, I never told him that I was a writer, and a theist because I never wanted to have that argument with him. In fact, I *dropped writing* during that part of my life so I wouldn’t have to lie to him. For what it is worth, I managed several years with only sins of omission.

The saddest part is that he and I eventually went our separate ways because I would not date him– and could not tell him why. It was not his disabilities, it was that I could never be myself truly and make him happy.

In a Chestertonian sort of quirk I realized that to operate in this fashion lead to an aseptic but sterile existence I could not manage. There is a line from him that describes it better than I can– but I’ll try. You can make very good arguments about why fiction can be entirely evil. But to live in that fashion is to destroy so much, to contort natural life into such unnatural shapes that it becomes apparent that to call it thus is contrary to reason.

For example: if fiction is evil– then what is a similie or a metaphor? What is a fable, or poetry or the teaching parables of Jesus? What about story problems for your math homework? What about those old stories you tell your children? Santa Claus? What do you do instead of a bedtime story? What are silly songs with bizarre lyrics or the poetry especially of Edward Lear? What about representative art that shows things that never were? Things that are half-remembered, things that you saw in a dream?

If our memories are so fragile and false, where do you indeed draw the line? It seems to me that the human mind uses narrative to make decisions,
keep facts straight, create bonds between individuals families and societies– what are those family stories anyway? How much of them are really true? You may as well ask “what is truth”?

I don’t know how other people write without reading. I also write some non-fiction, and without fiction I would be lost in that as well. Good thing we don’t live in that world. Trust me, it is a sad and lonely place.