I am sitting here at 2:05 AM as I begin this piece. I have been working and working and working on a variety of other pieces, those that are meant to elevate me to the status of “successful.” This is, of course, the individual writer’s dream, their ideas on ‘art’ or ‘influence’ being mere fantasies in relation to whether they can keep a reader interested it whatever they have to say. This is being written after a six hour of work session, non-stop, words dangling outside of me after editing and re-writing a far more significant work. Yes, I’m going to talk about writing itself, so those of you interested in political rants, or social commentary, or any of the other far more interesting and vicious topics I prefer to rant about might wish to ignore this essay. Although, based upon my regular audience (I get to gauge who and what and where people are reading us on the several sites I post this upon), I figure this might offer a slight relevance to the momentary passions of whatever is it you are trying to do.
I am modestly successful. I have been writing professionally–at least for moderate pay–for the past thirty years. I started with short stories, have written novels and comic books and screenplays; I work on historical narratives and biographical studies, and have even written poetry when words are all that matter to me. I have been doing this for over two thirds of my life, and it is the only thing I really know how to do. None of this is meant as a boast, nor a self-referential “look at how awesome I think I am,” because the realities of living a life such as this are far less glamorous than someone thinking about bestselling authors and movie deals might suppose. No, most of us survive doing hack work, telling the stories that other people wish to tell, and often even having our names stripped from the narrative, a “ghost writer” giving credence to a minimal story about a secondary person’s mostly meaningless life.
As far as I can tell (and I wave and live around both wannabe and more successful writers), the urge to tell a story is an all-consuming passion. This is not merely limited to pompous or merely hopelessly ambitious persons like myself, but branches out into the day to day every day, where people reinvent themselves based upon whichever situation they wish to rise above. But the story of our lives is far more complicated than the anecdotes we choose to repeat over and over again until the exaggerations we provide become the actual truth as far as we can remember. No, those of us who wish to tell these tales have an entirely different perspective on life, no less untrue, perhaps, but with a seemingly dark intention to portray ourselves and the world that we see as either far more tragic or infused with unnatural light.
I live in a cage of satirical darkness. This should not be mistaken as a life of comedy. Satire, at least as I have always perceived it, is the bleakest sort of commentary one can offer to the world. What we are trying to do is bring the world down down down into a purgatorial level of cynical delight. We point out the obvious flaws and the sometimes ignore savagry that overwhelm the way we are all endeavored to live. And when I hear some wannabe writer talk about how they can’t write anything because of some false condition called “writer’s block,” I cannot stomach listening to anything else such a person has to say.
There is no such thing as “writer’s block.” All we can believe about this is a psychological condition where self-confidence and self-respect have collapsed enough to convince an individual that whatever story they have to tell is meaningless. Fortunately for myself (regardless of whatever negativity within the small realm of writers this might inspire), I have never bothered with something so base. There is always something to talk about. I mean, look at this blather I am going on and on about. I do not believe that this is ‘poor writing,’ my personal style now fully developed and the way I tell a story or rant established until this is second nature. A piece such as this is pure stream-of-consciousness, an academic term (and I am definitely an “academic,” living in a literary world that does not even exist within the hard and brutal realities of the everyday, until, that is, until the bills come due) that is meant to imply that it rolls right off the top of my head. This is not entirely accurate, although mostly it is, because there is still a certain craft to this procession, the idea that words will continue to flow and that language is far more important than whatever consequence the words you have to say might impose upon the public (should such a public exist outside of our expectation.) “Stream-of-consciousness,” a term that within college literature classes holds a high end designation, members like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner and other notoriously difficult authors are granted, assuming that the generations of later critics understand the struggles these artists took to compose their masterworks, is ultimately meaningless. What it comes down to is confidence, whether you believe you can write, or are plagued with the lingering doubt over whether you have anything to say.
I spent years in college, listening to the mostly failed writers (although some were spectacularly successful, at least as far as literary prizes go) talk on and on about the specific styles they attempted in their personal work. They granted these narratives some sort of high end meaning that certainly not all of us could agree with. I was a loudmouth, convinced, at the time, of my own brilliance, and I had no issue challenging whatever equally pompous counterpoint the professor offered about whomever or whatever it was. I found a great deal of political rambling in college, although, prick that I always have been, I tried to offer a counterpoint to everything. I remember one class, one where the teacher clearly loathed me, called “The Radical Novel,” which was less its title than more about protesting whichever social trend the era of the work was challenging (and I will admit, regardless of my personal animus for the professor, that it was a great study), where I was referred to by my classmates, at separate times during the semester, as both a “left-wing creep” and “a fucking Nazi.” I have no idea how either of these conclusions were made. Perhaps simply disagreeing with absolutism renders you as the worst possible stereotype within whichever political ideology the others momentarily believe.
And now I sit here writing and writing, me not so much ranting as laughing at whatever any other writer has to say. And do not take this the wrong way–please! I am not the best writer there is (regardless of whatever any individual writer must believe about themselves to get beyond those years of ambitious struggle), and I do not look down upon (well, just about) anyone. But this is not the point. I believe myself to be capable. I understand the jigsaw puzzle of words, placing codes here or there in their proper spot in order to cause some type of commotion. When people disregard writing as an art form (which increases daily, it seems, the literacy of the public declining in these Twitter-sponsored days), they need to think upon language differently, perhaps the way a writer might see it. Words are a pattern, a mathematical perfection, and the guise of an individual author is more as a sculptor than anything else. If we look to the poets (and I am not a huge fan of this format, as any of my former high school students–or at least those who remember me–would tell you, there is a definite art to placing words in their proper place. Writers should all see this (and plenty of us do). Language is the most important and significant invention of humanity. For all of our technological triumph and our drastically unbelievable modes of transportation and communication, our ability to speak with one another, to express even ideas that all of us believe are stupid, is far more significant than anything any other species in the history of our planet has ever dared to believe.
Good luck, fellow writers. The clay you work within is far denser than anything any other creator attempts to solve. I am behind you, no matter how much I may hate your work.