Writing Is A Profane, Irrational, Imperfect Act
Writing is a profane act.
I don’t literally mean in the FUCK THIS, SHIT THAT way (though for me that tends to be true enough just the same). But I mean profane in the classic sense: it’s a heretical, disrespectful act. Crass! Irreverent! Writing and storytelling is this… nasty task of taking the perfect idea that exists in your head and shellacking it all up by dragging it through some grease-slick fontanelle in order to make it real. You’re just shitting it all to hell, this idea. You have it in your mind: golden and unbreakable. And then in reality, ugh. You’ve created a herky-jerky simulacrum, a crude facsimile of your beautiful idea run through the copy machine again and again until what you started with is an incomprehensible spread of dong-doogle hieroglyphics.
The end result will never match the expectation.
You will never get it just right.
The idea is God: perfect, divine, incapable of repudiation, utterly untouchable.
The result is Man: fumbling, foolish, a jester’s mockery, a bundle of mistakes in tacky pants.
Nobody is good enough to tell the stories and ideas inside them. I mean that sincerely. The ideas in my head are shining beams of light, perfect and uninterrupted. And when they finally exist on paper, they end up fractured and imperfect — beams of light through grungy windows and shattered prisms, shot through with motes of dust, filtered up, watered down.
But sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes, a beam of light is still a beam of light no matter how diffuse it is, no matter how dirty the light, no matter how filthy the floor is that it illuminates. And when it’s not enough, you keep on trying until it is. Because eventually, it becomes that. The only reason it doesn’t become that isn’t a lack of skill or talent, but giving up before that lack of skill or talent shows up on the page. The only true failure is giving up and giving in.
I write this in response to a colleague who was talking on Facebook about the ideas in his head never matching the expression of those ideas, whether from a lack of skill or talent or intelligence. Thing is, it’s true. My colleague is right. Those things will never match. No matter how hard you try, because the only way to get our stories out of our heads and into your heads we first need to translate them into mundane language. And when you translate one language into another, you introduce imperfections, inaccuracies, misunderstandings. You move the Bible from Enochian angeltongue to Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English and you lose something vital — once, the Bible was about a guy named Dave who saved the Galaxy with his unicorn army. Now it’s blah blah blah something about “Jesus” and “loving one another.” Writing is always this: an adaptation of the sacred into smut. Dragging the divine out of his Sky Chariot and into the human dirt.
But me, I like that aspect.
I like making God into sausages.
I like dragging those angels down into the slurry, dirtying their wings, breaking their harps.
I like translating the beautiful celestial song and grunting it in our human chimp-shrieks.
Because that’s the only way it will ever exist.
Because if there’s one thing that is imperfect about perfection —
It’s that it’s too perfect to live.
It’s unreal. And I don’t truck much with unreality.
Writing unwritten is a promise unfulfilled. I’d rather make the promise and complete it badly than make the promise and never even try. A story untold is a life unlived. What’s the point? If you want to do this thing, you have to set yourself up against unrealistic expectations. You cannot combat perfection because perfection? That smiling, shiny jerk always wins. You do what you do, crass and irreverent as it may be, because committing heresy in the name of art is far better than huffing invisible God-farts and cleaving only to invisible philosophy.
We’re told to do no harm.
But sometimes, you have to trample pretty daisies to get where you’re going.
This also means setting for yourself realistic, reasonable metrics for success. A day’s worth of writing is a success. Finishing the thing is a success. Separate that out from the aspect of professional, business success. You can’t control that kind of success, though you can maximize your luck and that means first finishing what you begin. If you want to create? Create. If you want to write and tell stories, do that. Don’t give yourself over to unkind, cruel standards. Judge yourself fairly. Work despite perfect expectations. Those who try to master perfection will always fall to those who iterate, and reiterate, and create, and recreate. Art is better than philosophy. Creation, however clumsy, is always better than sitting on your hands and fearing what damage they can do.
Kill the perfect. Slay the angels. Fuck the gods.
You’re human. You’ll get it wrong. Everybody gets it wrong.
But getting it wrong is the only way you get close to getting it right.