Sunday, October 17, 2010

350 and Counting...


Well, for a year-and-a-half, the Wonderful World of Clutter has been plugging away at that thing it does best. No one is quite certain of what that thing exactly is, but who cares! We have reached a milestone of sorts with a 350th post. Kind of special when you think about it. That means that you could read one post per day for almost an entire year, that is, if you skipped reading on important holidays like Arbor Day or Flag Day or Pearl Harbor Day.

But enough with the accolades and introspection. Today, dear readers, I plan to write about the act of creative writing. A friend of mine taking a beginning creative writing course found herself struggling with creating a story. This is something that happens to all writers at some point in their career. I recall a period when I felt stifled by the act of writing after reading Joe Gould's Secret by Joseph Mitchell. Joe Gould had perpetrated perhaps one of the greatest tragic literary hoaxes of his day and it devastated Mitchell when he discovered the story behind the fraud. What struck a cord with me and why did it cause me to put down my pen from sketching out ideas into my notebooks and eventually force me away from typing out my tales and yarns? It was the inability to tell the grand story that we had believed was out there.

There is a misconception that all beginning writers hold as a golden truth--that a writer should write what they know. Let's face it, most of our lives are pretty boring and only punctuated with mildly interesting anecdotes here and there, if we were to write what we knew from this, we would have very boring stories. Hints and incidents don't amount to a good read. However, when we stretch out experience out to the uncomfortable boundaries, itches we won't scratch in public, or other unsightly messes, we end up with something far more interesting.

Another reason why I advise people against fictionalizing their own experience is the risk of writing for  therapy. Writing for therapy is a wonderful thing, if used for therapy. But when brought to the public audience it reads like a therapy session and is ultimately an unenjoyable and tedious experience. For example, I recall a course I took while working on my master's degree in which a woman wrote exclusively about the suicide of her lover. In three separate stories we had three different tellings of the guilt she over a loved one's purposeful death. This was very cathartic for her, but almost impossible to critique or criticize because it was her own experience put under a creative lacquer. No matter what we would say to try and help her improve the craft of her tale, everything was going to have a gloss giving it a tacky shine. One of the worst books of nonfiction I have ever read was a 224-page exercise in therapeutic writing by Jo Ann Beard titled, Boys of My Youth. I will summarize the book for you as thus: Whine whine whine...poor me...divorce...whine ex...Whine whine school ex...poor me...I wrote a book...Look at me! Not too enjoyable.

But if a beginning writer is unable to write about their own lives and draw from their own experiences, how can they learn to create vivid experiences and convey them to the reader? This question was presented to me many times over and over in the course of my conversation with my highly opinionated yet prose-challenged friend. Imagination. HA! Simple, I know, we always are creating narratives about other people and those narratives whether accurate or not is the basis of a story. We see a man at a bus stop with a can of beer in a paper bag--immediately a story forms in your head. How did he get there?why is he there? is the beer warm? is he homeless? et cetera, ad infinitum. Translating line of questioning and assigning answers those questions to paper is the challenge.

Do I write what I know? Yes, sometimes...But I try to keep my blog from being an emotive diary. Blog literature, be it nonfiction narrative or something else has a tendency to be, well, ill-conceived and mean-spirited. People use these online forums as a public diary, sometimes as a pubic diary as well, and yes, the typo is intentional. Blogs are filled with either therapeutic writing or an even more annoying form of text, what I refer to as the snark. Snarky writing can be fun, but the mean spirit of it gets old. Wit, satire, and well crafted irony is great, however, few people know how to execute these things in a artful manner; often it just comes off as rude and ill-informed. Writing humor is more challenging that one might think. A crack fall or a sight gag doesn't always work when spelled out. That is why people revert to childish name calling and the dick and fart jokes we see to often. I too am guilty of these things because they are easy fruit to pick.

So what is the point of this little diatribe on the act of writing? I do not profess to be a skilled writer. But over the years of study I have invested in the craft, I have picked up a few bits of knowledge of what works and what doesn't work. Often, very little of it works--so you throw it all away and you start over with a new idea. Words are impermanent. It is the wonderful thing about writing when you create something like this. Unless it is published or made public, no one needs to see it again. All of your drafts can be thrown away, burned, pulped. Kafka wanted all of his unpublished works destroyed...they weren't. But who remembers most all of them; we remember Gregor Samsa.

Just a few ideas to think about...

Tomorrow more clutter...and poorly edited sentences...

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