Archive for February, 2010

So you want to be a writer?

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Since I’m on a mini-roll here, I figured I’d just stay with the same topic one more day.

That stated, do you know this poem?

Pondering the deep questions of life, like what's for lunch.

It’s been on my bathroom mirror for the last eight months, and I can attest that its message is absolute truth.

There’s maybe a little planning and organization that could go into the process that he doesn’t mention, but mostly he’s dead on: The words just come…or they don’t.

Any attempt to force them will sound that way and feel that way and you’ll end up deleting them anyway. It’s as implausible as it is true.

So You Want To Be A Writer

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you

in spite of everything,

don’t do it.

unless it comes unasked out of your

heart and your mind and your mouth

and your gut,

don’t do it.

if you have to sit for hours

staring at your computer screen

or hunched over your

typewriter

searching for words,

don’t do it.

if you’re doing it for money or

fame,

don’t do it.

if you’re doing it because you want

women in your bed,

don’t do it.

if you have to sit there and

rewrite it again and again,

don’t do it.

if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,

don’t do it.

if you’re trying to write like somebody

else,

forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of

you,

then wait patiently.

if it never does roar out of you,

do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife

or your girlfriend or your boyfriend

or your parents or to anybody at all,

you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,

don’t be like so many thousands of

people who call themselves writers,

don’t be dull and boring and

pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-

love.

the libraries of the world have

yawned themselves to

sleep

over your kind.

don’t add to that.

don’t do it.

unless it comes out of

your soul like a rocket,

unless being still would

drive you to madness or

suicide or murder,

don’t do it.

unless the sun inside you is

burning your gut,

don’t do it.

when it is truly time,

and if you have been chosen,

it will do it by

itself and it will keep on doing it

until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

–Charles Bukowski

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Don’t Try

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

So according to Wikipedia and abbreviated for your reading pleasure, Charles Bukowski’s gravestone reads: “Don’t Try”, a phrase which Bukowski uses in one of his poems, advising aspiring writers and poets about inspiration and creativity. Bukowski explains the phrase as follows:

Somebody asked me: “What do you do? How do you write, create?” You don’t, I told them. You don’t try. That’s very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It’s like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it.

Amen, brother.

I totally get that.

This blog is even like that. If I have nothing, I have nothing. And if I have something, it’s usually worth an hour of my time to write and ten minutes of your time to read. And if it’s not, then I don’t bother.

In the same way, as of late I’ve been on the receiving end of some well-intentioned cheerleading with the general refrain of”write your agent queries already!”

And I don’t disagree with the sentiment or the need for cash flow, but if I know one thing about myself, it’s that genius comes when it comes.

And when it shows up, you’d better have some paper and a pen handy, because it doesn’t hang out long.

One of the images you get when you type 'Don't Try' into Google and select 'Images.' I'm feeling it.

Here’s the deal: I have two paragraphs (think of the inner flap of a hardcover or the back page of a paperback) which which to bowl someone over and make them want to read my entire book, and it’s going to have to be brilliantly inspired prose to work. And brilliantly inspired prose of such focused brevity and import cannot be forced. It just comes when it’s ready.

Kind of like manna from heaven, it just falls into your brain ready to rumble.

So until then, I sit and wait and work on other stuff and massage the plot for the next book and hope that I’ll see my muse floating in through the window sometime soon. Paper and pen are on deck when she gets here.

It won’t be too long now.

I could’ve sworn I caught a glimpse of her the other day.

So cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal. –William S. Burroughs

Or, to quote literary agent Janet Reid, whose blog I’ve been reading for the last week or so:

I don’t want you to be grateful I read your queries. It’s my job, and it’s in my best interest. I NEED good queries to make a living. Fuck grateful; write better queries.


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How not to write a book

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Although in the last year I have written two books (one a memoir about my solo backpack trips through Europe in 1993 and 2008, and one a sci-fi novel about the world 100 years in the future after we’ve destroyed our own food chain and decimated the environment), I can’t necessarily claim to know what I’m doing.

Paper and pen are a good place to start...in 1888. Can you even imagine writing a whole book in script? Holy hand cramps, Batman!

At the same time, I have become pretty clear on what I did wrong, so perhaps my stupidity can be your gain?

Thus, without further rambling introduction, let me tell you how I approached the novel-writing process…which is your cue to pull a George Costanza and do everything the opposite of my instincts.

1. You’ve got a vague idea…so get writing!

Who needs a story arc, character studies, or even a clear sense of where you’re going? You’ve got a big idea and dream…so start putting words onto paper willy nilly. It’ll all work out.

Or something.

2. Have absolutely no sense of how long a chapter should be or how many of them there are.

Anarchy is the name of the game, baby. Look at Charles Bukowski: If you’re not totally out of control, you have no business calling yourself a ‘writer.’

3. Plot? What’s that?

See #2.

4. Take absolutely no notes on the names, ages, or other details of your characters.

It’s more fun to make up new names and vary the dates in which the whole book takes place. Change things as you go, because it’s soooooo much fun when you get to the end and everything is a giant clusterf*ck. Yay! Chaos!

I have been cultivating passive clarity for the last week, and I feel pretty darn good today.

5. Never, ever, ever edit along the way. Just write and write and write and write and plan to worry about it later.

One cannot appreciate how much it takes to create a clean novel until you’re knee-deep in hundreds of pages of your own free-association drivel.

6. Avoid ‘later’ like the plague.

Need I say more?

7. When taking large breaks for varying reasonable and irrational reasons, don’t re-read whatever was written previously, just carry on to the best of your recollection.

You will never fully grasp what a simple creature you are until you’re doing your first read-through and find that one character says or does the same thing six different times.

8. Go on endless tangents about characters you later decide to cut or intricately detailed, off-topic back stories no one in their right mind would ever want to read.

It makes things a little bit better when you get to number nine and…

9. Realize you are well on your way to a 1000-page novel

And no one wants to read a 1000-page novel, let along a 1000-page first novel. At least you have the rubbish referenced in #8 and can swiftly cut back to a nice, savory 750-page tome.

10. Have no idea how it ends

That way, every waking minute of your life can be consumed with the potential fates and prospective destinies of a bunch of imaginary people that only exist in your brain. Added bonus: Makes engaging cocktail party chatter!

As you  might imagine, things will be handled differently during attempt #2 (commencing next week). As it stands, I’m already working and re-working the chapter outlines and character studies, and I haven’t even written a single page yet.

Today he ate part of a brand new bar of lavender soap I bought for Mexico. Psycho.

Live and learn, people!

He dares to be a fool, and that is the first step in the direction of wisdom.  -James Gibbons Huneker

Tomorrow: How not to raise a dog.

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Not at all what I expected

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Hmmmm…

Rather anti-climactic.

True, it’s not the first time in my life that something I thought was going to be a really big deal when it finally happened kinda wasn’t, but it’s still strange to realize I am totally done with the book (or as done as I’m going to bother being until a publisher wants me to change things) and yeah…it kind of feels the same as it did before I was actually totally done with the book.

That feeling, by the way, is vague anxiety mixed with a fair amount of expectation and high hopes and a dash of terror.

Or – as it has become more commonly known – same day, different shit.

At the same time, I have to wonder why it’s such a non-event?

Am I just emotionally blotto from everything I’ve been through the last few months?

Maybe that’s because I’ve already launched a plan to do the next one?

And sketched out all the chapters for said next one?

And rented a tiny Mexican casita on the southern Baja coast without a TV or any real distractions for the month of March in order to do that writing?

And so I know I’ll be right back in the maelstrom in no time at all?

Or maybe it’s because I still have to write the queries – TWO PARAGRAPHS to summarize a 136,000 word book that took me eight months. Sheesh!!! – and contact agents and get the whole thing going in the next couple weeks, and potentially that’s going to be its own massive learning curve summit.

Or maybe it’s the hour I spent battling the US Copyright office website trying to register the thing? It was singlehandedly the most ambiguous web-based experience of my life, and the apex of inefficiency and disorganization. If you’ve never had the pleasure, allow me: They somehow managed to create a user experience rich with confusion and bewilderment and “What? I mean, what?” bad instructions and and dozens of unnecessary and baffling steps. In short, it’s an electronic clusterf*ck

Anyway, no matter. There are no answers. From my perspective, the point of this pointless post was simply to say that it’s all the way done at long last, and I’m feeling no pain…nor much of anything for that matter.

Devoid of my own strength of feeling, I turn to the masters for encouragement:

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

Henry David Thoreau

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10 Signs You’re Headed Toward a Breakup

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Let’s get down to brass tacks: Love is for suckers.

So the other day I found this article about signs you might be headed for a breakup, and I decided to pass it on for your edification…along with a few embellishments of my own, of course.

In honor of Valentine’s day, I figured it was the least I can do.

Some people might find this romantic, but a sight like this would seriously freak me out.

Love is elusive, but wanting to kill someone with your bare hands is, thankfully, less so.

1. You stop relationship-building behaviors. Maybe you stop kissing each other goodbye or stop texting each other during the day. Instead of adding things to the relationship, you start to resent each other like two five-year-olds who stop sharing their crayons.

2. You have really bad thoughts about crayons. You not only don’t want to share your crayons, you would like to stick a fistful of crayons into every orifice in your significant other’s body. And set them on fire. And you wonder whether their blood would be more torch red or wild strawberry?

3. You don’t understand each other anymore. The fighting escalates to a place where you no longer feel like you’re understood by your partner. Physical intimacy stops, communication stops, and you are living like roommates.

4. There is a roommate-like person in your house that you’re trying to pawn off on someone else. Look, let me level with you here, the reason your old friend from college won’t have an affair with your significant other is because you already told her way too much about him. Consider setting up a match.com or eHarmony account with their (Photoshopped) photo and some slightly-improved personal details.  Find someone new to deal with their bullshit.

I wonder what kind of test he's planning to cheat on?

5. You start punishing each other. When you get to the point of no longer understanding each other, what happens is that you end up just kind of coexisting in the new dynamic. Resentment builds and you get in your head too much. You are no longer about feelings, and you start punishing each other. “Well, he hasn’t done this for me, so I’m not going to do this for him” are the kind of thoughts that take root.

6. You start trying to kill each other. Seriously, the head-shaped dent in your frying pan is the first clue. So are your attempts to import poisonous cobras from India. And when you find yourself absent-mindedly researching which states’ penal codes go easiest on ‘crimes of passion’, well, who do you think you’re kidding anymore?

7. You fight less. When you get to the breakup point, you actually fight less with your partner. You fight less because in your mind and heart you start detaching yourself from the other person, and you don’t care as much anymore.

8. You don’t give a rat’s ass. When you’re past the breakup point, you actually don’t care whether your partner lives or dies. You forget their name and any reason you ever liked them because they’re dead to you now, and nothing ain’t ever gonna bring ‘em back.

9. You’ve taken the time to think it through. If you don’t think the relationship is going to work, or you know you’ve already disconnected based on how things have been going, then you might want to consider walking away for a few weeks. When you’re in the thick of things, they never seem to be able to work out.

10. You’ve taken the time to get a new identity. So you’ve faked your own death and are living in another state under an assumed name and stolen social security number? Let’s face it, things are probably over.

Thanks for playing.

Better luck next time.

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