John Hornor does not read this blog.
It’s true. He proved it yesterday, with a post about writing where he says I provide “penetrating, sharp insights about the craft [of writing].”
Obviously, he does not read terribleminds. Let’s all cluck our tongues at him now.
You should go read his post, though. It’s good stuff.
He talks up some interesting points. Points I don’t necessarily agree with, mind — I think writing can be taught, and I think the rules and advice from other authors is valuable (erm, at least, I hope — if it’s not, then nobody should find this blog to be of any value of at all, unless I’m talking about beards or recipes or grotesque search terms). I keep a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing at-hand because I learn from the insights of other writers.
But, it’s another topic discussed there that gets my bloggery juices a-flowing…
Let me be very upfront with all this: I don’t think writing is in any way mystical. I don’t, or rather, I can’t.
I can’t because this has become something of a personal issue for me. For writing to work, for me to be able to have this career and tackle it day in and day out, I have to look at writing a certain way. These are biases. These are prejudices. These are things that are… intensely specific to me, but it’s how I do what I do.
My father was a blue-collar dude. My whole family was that way. One side of the family were farmers, the other side were coal miners. This is salt-of-the-earth shit. Literally, of the earth. No, I’m not saying my bloodline is that of the Golem, I’m saying that these people worked with their hands; they got dirt and dust in their lungs and in their blood.
I don’t think a single one of them would call what they did mystical, or in some way equivalent to a religious experience. Admittedly, my father’s religious outlook was so simple it was elegant, and it was married to his blue-collar upbringing: “God is in the earth,” he’d say, and that was pretty much that. (As a child, this led me to believe that beneath the rows of zucchini and tomatoes and green beans lay some slumbering deity, the roots intertwined with his mighty beard. I was a weird kid. Shut up.)
To me, writing is no more important than what anybody else does, and in fact may be less important. I’d love to give into the idea that “but we are the voice of society, we are the storytellers, we are…” blah blah blah, but really, when you look at it, who’s more important? Me, the guy with a stack of unpublished manuscripts, or the guy who just fixed my wiring? Or the dude plowing the roads so that everybody can get to work? Or the soldier taking fire, or the fireman saving kittens and children from a burning house, or the dildo salesman bringing all manner of rubbery pleasure to ladies around the globe? It’s hard to feel important when stacked up against the rest of the world.
That’s my worry about ascribing mystical significance to the act of writing. To do that is — for me, not necessarily for John or you or anybody else — a slippery slope.
If I say this is mystical, then I’m effectively saying it’s important.
If those two aren’t related, and I’m somehow able to suggest that “mystical” does not equal “important,” then… what? What everybody does is mystical? Fine, okay, maybe God or Buddha or Midichlorians lurk in the working hands of every man and woman, but at that point, why label it mystical at all? If we’re all special, nobody’s special. “We’re all God’s children!” Sure, uh-huh. Maybe somebody could remind Him? Seems He’s forgotten a lot of his kids. All of us little latchkey bastards.
Further, if we attach mystical trappings to the act of writing, we make it special. We make it precious. Suddenly it’s no longer about work. It’s about the magic, the revelation, the irrationality of it. It’s Zen. It’s two pots banging behind your head — bang! — the noise startling you to enlightenment. It’s searing light, it’s the blindness of Saul to Paul, it’s scales dropping from the eyes.
You go that road, you suddenly give power to a lot of the writing goblins I try to kill. It suggests that The Muse is a viable force, and possibly a very real thing. (Makes sense, right? If writing is truly mystical, then mystical forces must be at work, and The Muse would certainly count as a mystical force.) If The Muse is real, then I must serve her. Then it becomes okay to not write today because… well, The Muse didn’t speak to me this morning. Oh well. It’s just not in the cards, or the bones, or the pigeon guts.
If The Muse is real, then so is writer’s block. In fact, maybe the block is from demonic forces, diabolical threads of evil working into my mind and stealing my precious Word Chi! Begone, Story Imps! The power of Chuck compels you. The power of Chuck compels you.
With mystical significance, my writing is swiftly enslaved by ideas that are external to me. I’m beholden to them. What happens when I sit in front of the computer and I go to type, and it feels like… gasp, work? What if it doesn’t feel like a Zen-bang Jesus-light chorus-of-spirits moment? Do I stop and wait for the mystical shit to hit me? Do I wait for Krishna or Ishtar or The Archangel Jimmy to come and whack me upside the head with the Glowy Writing Stick? Further, what happens when I perceive the moment to be mystical but then I go back and read it weeks later and it doesn’t feel right? Or an editor tells me it doesn’t work? Can’t my defense be, “But it was mystical. My words were God-chosen.”…?
I can’t do it. I open the door to that kind of thinking, and man, I’m fucked. I gotta do this day-to-day. I have to believe that I’m the keeper of the Verbal Voodoo, the Word Mojo, the Jargon Juice. I have to believe The Muse works for me, and that Writer’s Block is just a piss-soaked paper tiger filled with excuses.
I have felt it. Right? I have felt that awesome moment. I have felt the revelation, the epiphany, the Zen brainsplosion, the Jesus-karate-kicking-my-mind moment. So, I get it.
I just have to believe that it’s me doing it. That it’s coming from my subconscious. That when the words and characters and situations come out in ways I don’t expect (which is not only okay, but encouraged) that it’s because I know the story and I know what I’m doing even when I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing.
I have to believe this is a product of my brain, of endorphins, or synapses doing a 21-gun-salute.
I have to be the god of this little world, otherwise it owns me instead of me owning it.
I gotta be the God in the Machine — the douche ex machina.
Of course, it’s probably worth mentioning that I’m a control freak.
I’m just putting that out there.