(Re-Post) Glutton For Punishment, Or: Why I’m Writing Again

Author’s Note: I’m putting together an anthology of blogs I’ve written in the past. I’m going through about seven years’ worth of blogs I’ve written (and wisely saved), pulling the best ones for the anthology I’m hoping to self-publish pretty soon. This post below was something I’d posted on Open Salon about 2 1/2 years ago. It’s not going to be included in the anthology, but I thought I’d share this with you.

Something that strikes me from the onset is this sense of purpose, albeit one that was misplaced. I did end up writing about 75 pages worth of material, a first-person narrative about a political assassin. Much of it was backstory. I suppose someday I’ll revisit that unfinished piece. What I am reading in this piece is determination. However, that determination was sidetracked by all kinds of reason, either via my own control or lack thereof.

At any rate, what I wrote then is food for thought now.

 

Glutton For Punishment, Or: Why I’m Writing Again

April 7, 2010

 

A long time ago, I got it in my head that I was a writer. I attended writers’ conferences, hoping to mingle and learn from others. I eagerly sat through hundreds of writers’ workshops, producing material on the fly for the immediate approval of others. I subscribed to several literary journals and writing magazines, I poured over the collected works of favorite and well-respected writers, searching for clues on their writing styles and preferences. Eventually, I took all I learned and told myself I was a writer, that writers write, and I wrote my first manuscript.

All in all, 300+ pages. I was a writer!

Except I couldn’t write for shit. 300+ plus of pure, infantile, unwieldly, unreadable shit.

Not that anyone told me my writing wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. I was my own worst critic, and my internal Stewart Klein (kudos to you if you get this reference) was working non-stop, hurling brilliant ribbons of venal invective regarding my less-than-marginal abilities at concocting any kind of prose that made sense. So I gave up.

The better part of one year was wasted, so it seemed. And as the years progressed, I made some abortive attempts at finishing, editing, rewriting, all to no avail. I couldn’t get past the fact that I was in my early twenties when I wrote this manuscript; my early twenties was an emotional minefield for me, a time when depression, drugs, and alcohol played important roles in my life, and my writing reflected that. That writing wa, in my estimation, a 300+ page bitchfest, a rant manifesto against imagined enemies, but mostly rueing the fact that I didn’t get laid enough, and that the world was stupid for not discovering just how cool and awesome I was.

It didn’t help matters for me, later on, as I was able to get a better hold of my depression and those stupid years, that reading fiction became a chore. I diagnosed this as something akin to professional envy. Why couldn’t I write like the writers I admired? When I read something like White Noise or Slaughterhouse Five, those works served to demonstrate that I could never write like that; I wanted to be a writer just like Vonnegut and DeLillo, yet all I could muster was the kind of drivel-ridden output that’s common from a high-school creative writing class? It got to the point where I disliked reading fiction all together. Why read something that’s going to re-emphasize what a shitty writer you are?

In a pique of pre-planned madness, I took all those scraps of papers and notebooks and extra copies that made up that manuscript and burned them. All. If I recall correctly, there was a bottle of gin involved, and I danced around that modest bonfire. Good riddance to writing!

(And, by the way, if you’re inclined to tell me not to minimize all the effort I put into 300+ pages, I’ll first thank you for your generosity, and then tell you you were spared the horror of reading this piece of shit. It truly is a bastard’s butchering of English prose, and eventually, I’ll get around to burning the remaining known copies – assuming some ex-girlfriend doesn’t have a copy of this abomination stored in a hope chest somewhere that she’ll someday sell on eBay just to embarrass my ass – once I’m done cannibalizing what precious few good parts there are to this pile of dung.)

(Oh, and if you are an ex-girlfriend, or even an ex-friend, and are still in possession, for one reason or another, of said manuscript, please e-mail me privately so we can discuss some kind of financial arrangement where you agree to discard this manuscript permanently. Paper shredder, fire, whatever, as long as it’s destroyed, and you are willing to submit evidence of its’ destruction, I’ll sleep easier. Thank you.)

Still, I hadn’t given up writing all together. About 5 years ago, I discovered this whole “blogging” business. I can’t overstatevhow important blogging has been for me, , for me personally, and for my writing skills. Blogging has allowed me to not just find my voice, but to manipulate the tone and pitch of that voice. In these past 5 years, by my estimation, I’ve written over 600 blogs, posted on online blog sites everywhere (like this one), some good, some bad, yet that’s my voice in those blogs.

I was content with merely blogging. I’m still writing, after all. No sense in me fooling around with this novel writing nonsense.

Last year’s NaNoWriMo changed that. I was put up to the test to write 50,000 words in one month. I really didn’t harbor any hope of actually and logically putting together 50,000 words in a coherent, readable fashion – and, needless to say, I never came close to matching that number – and despite my resistance to the challenge of having to write 1,667 words per day for 30 day, I suddenly began to take writing very seriously again. I was struck by how many people I knew who were taking part in this writing challenge, and seeing how they were drawing inspiration to continue after the challenge ended. Personally, I was inspired by several close friends who were busy writing novles of their own. I figured, what the hell, if they can do it, why can’t I?

The first thing I needed to do was to convince myself that writing shouldn’t be punishment, or punishing. I shouldn’t see myself as a glutton for punishment were I to embark on writing again. I also stopped with subconsciously comparing my writing with other writers, and, instead, started paying attention not to what they wrote, but how they wrote. Cadence. Pacing. Turn of words. Grammar. It wasn’t enough for me just to read Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore; I wanted to understand how he wrote that novel.

To make matters more interesting for me, I was digging through some boxes in my garage, when what should suddenly appear but that damned manuscript I wrote. I was prepared to punish myself over the existence of this manuscript – and here I was thinking all copies had been done away with. Of course this is a stupid mentality to harbor, but I never said things were easy with me. To my surprise, what I forced myself to read wasn’t bad after all. Mind you, there’s no chance in hell I would ever submit something like this to an agent or a publishing house, but I found enough in what I wrote to use again.

Finally, I came across a quote from Sam Lipsyte in the latest issue of Poets & Writers, as he discussed his writing technique – “One of my big revelations was that nobody cares whether you write your novel or not. They want you to be happy. Your parents want you to have health insurance. Your friends want you to be a good friend. But everyone’s thinking about their own problems and nobody wakes up in the morning thinking, ‘Boy, I sure hope Sam finishes that chapter and gets one step closer to his dream of being a working writer.’ Nobody does that. If you want to write, it has to come from you. If you don’t want to write, that’s great. Go do something else. That was a very liberating moment for me.

And that was my Eureka! moment. I’m writing for me, and only me.

I’ve been writing for 2 weeks straight now. 25 handwritten pages, by the way. I have a pretty good idea of where I want this novel to go, but I still have no idea what this novel will truly be about. And that’s fine with me. My ambitions are simple: write and finish this novel. Regardless of the route this novel takes post-writing – whether it gets published, or I self-publish it, or I gift it to friends for Christmas – I’ve come to the realization that having no expectations is indeed a very liberating prospect.

(PS – yes, my offer still stands. I don’t want that manuscript to ever see the light of day.)

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10 thoughts on “(Re-Post) Glutton For Punishment, Or: Why I’m Writing Again

  1. Nice! I despair at times because I can’t use the language the way Ivan Doig does. Gradually I accept that I use it the way Rebecca does, and that’s okay.

    Still wish I were, as a bull-filled prof told me when I went to take my Orals, a fucking genius. But I ain’t. (He knew damn well I’m no genius. Still, it was a great thing to say to someone about to face an academic firing squad). I’m learning to live with being what I am.

    • I feel your pain. There are times when I read a spectacular writer – Amy Hempel, for example, whom I’ve been reading lately – and curse myself for not being able to write the way they do. But then I realize I write the way I write, and that’s how I should be writing.

  2. That’s a great quote to remember for writing, and something I think I need to have framed and stuck on my wall. I often find myself getting annoyed that my friends don’t ask me how the novel is going or read my fascinating blog posts. Then I remember that most of them have jobs and goals of their own that I very rarely ask them about and I calm down a bit. The only person responsible for me writing a book is me, and it’s my own fault if that hasn’t quite happened yet!

    Being relatively new to the blogging world, I look forward to reading a few more posts from your archives.

    • Exactly. Although it’s great to get encouragement from family and friends, ultimately it’s you that should give yourself the reason to continue writing, because you do it for yourself. The fact that you have an audience is always a plus.

  3. It’s easy to lose track of writing for yourself and get bogged down on trying to write the book that you think others want to read. At least if you write for yourself, it’ll be more honest.

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