as the colours drain brown stain water humus over broken branches all bark-stripped smoothworn they blindly rush hoping the leaf-slick deer-run leads them away from dusk hanging low so soon to the hollow where the flask of scotch was hid
Originally appeared in “Gorilla Pamphlets”
Some experimenting below. I thought it may be interesting to append to this post. This would be a good exercice à la Beckett to achieve that “detached” vibe in one’s writing.
Whenever an artist, a craftsperson, a chef creates something identifiable as his or her own, the underlying differentiator is the story. Forget the words, brush strokes, hammer marks, tool grinds, ingredients; the only thing — the only quality — that matters is the story. What remains from the creation is not only ‘object,’ but ‘narrative’ of why that object has come to be. The creative thing does not exist without the story lest it become a mere commodity, a castaway one-use bobble, ephemera.
The very reason your Mother’s Spaghetti is unmatched by spaghetti in a can or from a restaurant is because the concept of “Mom’s spaghetti” is inseparably linked to the background tales, memories, made-up family tidbits that surround the spaghetti itself. These will survive the death of the Mother. These will transcend the small changes made to the original recipes by daughters and sons. These will be the insoluble essence of Mother’s Spaghetti. The old jokes and reminiscences will be as important as the metered amounts of flour and egg, tomato and spices.
The same holds true for Grandfather’s razor, Dad’s walking stick, Aunt Elanors’s watercolour, whatever heirloom making the rounds in a family. Without the built-up mystique of oral / written / photographic history, the heirlooms are just things: junk or trappings for garage sales.
The same should hold true for good writing. Without background, without an anchor in the writer’s actuality, without a link to the time and space around it, a story or poem or novel is nothing but a bunch of words. A writer should be cognizant of his or her place in the oeuvre of the age, whether he or she fights against or plays into it. Without acknowledgement — positive or negative — of its place in the whole, a work can only fall flat, existing outside any traceable ancestry, words on a page for the sake of themselves.
When writing, build differentiation, flavour, the story behind the story, placing it in the here and now, making it relevant, making it memorable.
Creative writing for the likeminded — and ONLY the likeminded
I sometimes take the opportunity to rant. This is a rant.
It appears that the entire intent of ‘literature’ and ‘poetry’ is to create and define niches. Because the world — read: virtual world — is so vast, everyone is trying to cut a little piece of the landscape and call it ‘home.’ But, there are only certain guests that can and will be invited into these ‘homes.’
Open call for writers from ___ with experience in ___ and a ___ background.
The creative writing world is laser-focusing on the micro-niche. Only certain writers and certain readers will interact in shared, manufactured spaces. People will read what they write and write what they read, creating a tight, closed, exclusive little circle.
Submit to our ___ theme.
Only $25 and every entry gets a “free” one-year subscription.
The likeminded buy their way into likeminded publications that create a reader-base on a specific call. I understand the need for reading fees and the likes in a world where funding is dwindling; this said, the original need becomes a foundation for niche-building. Each publication becomes a silo that contains only the “type” of writing seeded in calls, inflating circulation numbers to readers who bought a subscription. That year wasn’t free. Exclusive content only $___ per month.
$3 here, $5 there, $15 hither, $25 yon… all to buy into a place that feels like ‘home.’ But all the people there, the likeminded, they also bought in, for the same reasons, sparked by the same call, the same ‘experience,’ the same ‘background.’ The home is peopled with writers that sound the same, think the same, read the same…
…creating a tight, closed, exclusive little circle.
I miss the days of pulp mags, of mags that published a variety of conflicted, conflicting, interesting stuff. Now many — and I should note that it’s not ALL — journals or mags or publications just put out pages of I’ve-seen-this-before-and I-can-pretty-much-guess-what’s-coming-next.
Break the circle – Write outside the silo – Make the world your niche
Wherever your ideas comes from, be it image, fact, lie, it is interesting to have some type of documentation surrounding those ideas. Maybe there is a biographical link, a creative link, an environmental link, a detail that someone, somewhere, sometime will pick up about your piece. Because the original ideas are oftentimes NOT the core of a story or poem, they can add a certain depth for the serious reader. Having the ability to “uncover” these gems can be very rewarding to the parsers. To others, this type of backstory doesn’t matter. That’s great. Writing should be for different audiences. But giving the hardcore fans, the historical sleuths, the biographers of the future something to discover can be satisfying.
Writing can be a jigsaw puzzle. Although the endgame is a complete image/narrative, the process, the construction, the genesis is mostly lost to readers. Just imaging the exhilaration of finding a little piece of the puzzler inside the puzzle — a tidbit, a factoid, a revelation. This can elevate the serious reader to another level.
Biographical content is not necessarily the key. “Write what you know” can be the worst advice a writer could attempt to follow. This said, if there is a cool detail that lead to your piece, a detail that you can jot down somewhere in a journal, kept safe for future discovery, that is a priceless nugget. Even if it is totally unnecessary for the final fiction, that nugget can add so much to someone who had taken the time to discover it.
With practice, and by following your personal voice, style, aesthetic, these nuggets will start to manifest in the overarch of your oeuvre: links, parallels, juxtapositions that alone mean nothing; bits that taken together, maybe with the addition of extra-textual notes, become beacons of meaning.
That’s why it is important to save your notebooks, to have someone who knows about them, someone who will, eventually, help the world decipher the hidden stories within your stories.
The author is dead, maybe, but long live the author!
Keeping old books, stories, poems alive is important. Once something isn’t new or on the shelf anymore doesn’t mean it should fade into obscurity. Digital publications that go offline, presses that die, journals that shutter their doors, all contribute to this growing issue of slow word death. Make it a point to seek out and preserve these. Take a screen shot. Find an old, abandoned review and share it. Long live the old-ish stuff!
Here is a poem published 10 years ago in a now defunct magazine. Glad I have my contributor copies.
Why does fresh ground cinnamon taste better? Does it actually taste better? Either way, there is a difference.
To me, the act of rasping the cinnamon into coffee grounds, onto an apple, into a barbecue rub adds to the experience. There is an ownership of the spice, an effort in making the most of the ingredient that elevates it. Instead of just tapping a few shakes from a plastic jar, you actually make the flavour come alive through action.
How does this apply to writing? Simply. Don’t use canned ideas, expressions, clichés, styles, conventions. Make something new. Create something never done. Act on your writing. Go beyond the idea of stringing words together; go deeper, into sound, structure, meaning, history, foundations. Writing should be active and not a passive exercise in retelling. This is best exemplified in Hollywood these days. Reboots. Reruns. Retellings. All boring, adding nothing new… When a well written, original movie comes along, it truly stands out. In each case, there is a conscientious effort to make a masterpiece, outside and beyond what already exists.
Practice by reading different styles, from different sources, from different cultures. Soon, you’ll transcend the words, you’ll find the elemental spice that make the work unique, vibrant, original. Then find your own ingredients, break them down to the constituent parts, build your own, fresh literary recipe.
The beauty of online communities, networks, publications, is the abundance of information available. We can learn anything, from anyone, at any time. However wonderful this is, there are too many traps to fall into.
Learn from the Teachers
A lot of advice — a lot — comes from novices, learners, students. This may seem fantastic, a fresh pool of opinions to draw from. It is, however, important to remember that Teachers and Masters have learned from experience. They show what they’ve done, more than expound on what they think should be done. The best example is a college/university course. Would you rather sit in a room with an experienced professor, or with a fourth year student lecturing? Ask yourself what is the difference?
The same holds true for writers. Trust those who have been published, those who have been rejected, those who have proven themselves over time. Sure the new kid on the block may throw his or her ideas out there, but often those are conceptual instead of experiential. Also, those new insights are often ‘borrowed’ or ‘reworded.’ It takes time and living the life to really have the ability to pass along wisdom.
Ignore the Sycophants
However good it feels to have someone like you and / or your writing, there is seldom much value in the sycophant’s comments.
I love what you did here.
Perfect as always!
This ego-stroking, heart-clicking, thumb-upping advice does little to challenge, advance, spark an internal discussion. Beware the folks that fawn over your stuff. Maybe there are ulterior motives (reciprocation, follows/likes by association), but certainly there are few constructive motives.
Don’t Ignore the Haters
Unless a reader is castigating just to castigate, or baiting, or trolling, there may be some useful nuggets of wisdom in the vitriol.
Man, could you drone on any longer!
Wow, haven’t seen this a thousand times.
None of this really connects.
Somewhere, inside that dark cloud that weighs on the writer, there is a silver lining. Maybe a short sentence would work here and there. Maybe that was a weak piece. Those readers who take the time to criticize, hopefully politely, will give you pause. Are they on to something? Is the challenge worthy? Could this be improved?
Now, take the compliments when deserved and ignore the insults when unwarranted. But, if you are truly searching for lessons, for improvement, place more weight in those that have done it before, for real, in the real world, and that have something to say that may actually make you uncomfortable.