A while back, an online friend joked to me that I should do a book review of the Bible. I thought it was a good idea at the time but I wanted to read the entire thing through first before reviewing it, even though the material is too vast and varied to really do a detailed content review. It never panned out, but the beginning of the new year/month (decade?) is a good starting point to actually go through with this (don’t worry, it’s not a New Year’s resolution; I don’t make resolutions, I just shut up and do things). I’m going to do this 90 day plan — it’s really 88 days but the schedule give two “grace days” (hurr hurr) because of all the slothful dispositions out there.
In other news, the book rewrite is chugging along but not going as I had planned. I’m hoping this Bible reading will make my life so undeniably holy and excruciatingly faithful that it will just rewrite itself. Sounds like a reasonable, rational expectation.
So I’m on vacation until the first work day of the new year. Among other things on the docket, mostly holiday-related, that I need to do, I thought I would plan to finish the third and final rewrite of the book — final, as in, the manuscript that is agent-ready and something that I would be willing to let someone, like the wife, read over, who isn’t an industry lackey or a literature nut.
I’m currently on chapter 6 out of 28. That means that if I rewrite one and a half chapters a day it will be finished by the time works starts back up, and it will clock me in at about 90k words at the very maximum. But keep in mind that chapters aren’t definitive lengths of text; they are short as well as long. 1.5 is just a goal-setting measurement, easier to maintain than word counts. I just don’t want to be stuck on the laptop on my whole vacation, which is an impossible scenario anyways.
So raise your Queen Anne breast-sized glass filled with the divine nectar and forgo the toast, because I’m going to need all the luck you have to offer.
The Art of Manliness posted about nine writers that are carrying the torch for men’s fiction. It’s not really a secret that most modern fiction is marketed towards women, but I wonder exactly how a story can have a gender. It’s an absurd notion on its head because only people have genders, not words on a page or airy things like narratives. I find it to be as silly a categorization as “chick lit” but if you’re a publishing giant trying to generate demand, then summoning genres out of nowhere might be a good idea.
Anyways, the list includes the yucky The Road and The Interrogative Mood. That last one held my interest at first blush until I realized it was too gimmicky to be worthwhile. An entire book of disjointed questions and no narrative? Not fiction. Write a poem, please. My guess is that Harper-Collins rightly thought that no one buys poetry books anymore, especially men, so Powell’s editor strongarmed him into taking out the hard carriage returns and forming paragraphs in random places.
I recently gutted my RSS reader of a few dozen writer blogs and a few select agent blogs because the effort to keep up with all of the linguistic confusion was reaching critical mass. Few writers actually write in their blogs; there’s always some urgent contest, a vomit-dump of acronyms in every post, people scheming like crafty lepers for Twitter followers, links to some site or industry post or to nowhere about something I really really absolutely need to check out. It’s like walking in on the middle of a conversation between: if you stick around for a bit you’ll understand what’s going on, but if they’re utilizing their own amalgamated verbiage then you should immediately abandon all hope.
Being in control of language, a skill every writer needs to have, doesn’t mean one has to achieve social chaos through the interconnected anarchy of the internet. Feel free to throw mud made of clauses and commas at the wall, but not so much URLs and hashmarked ridiculousness. There’s beauty in restraint; a respectable modesty in finesse and the fine touch. Remember when Flash started out? It was overused simply because people could overuse it, and most of the results were ugly on one end and browser-crashing on the other. Finally the dust settled and the best thing it’s used for is link carousels, Youtube, and Farmville. It looks as if some of us are drunk on code-lust.
Really, writers, do what you want with your own blog. If there’s any place any of us should indulge our druthers it’s the internet. But decide whether you’d like to be a writer or a blogger. I’d like to think there is a difference.
I ride my bike to the bus stop almost every work day — even in the winter. That sounds crazy, but it’s hardly that; biking in the winter is actually much more pleasant and not any more dangerous than in warmer seasons. With a few key pieces of clothing you will not get cold. In fact you’d be warmer than if you walked or stood around waiting for the bus. Trust me. Weather aside, winter biking is good exercise, saves gas money, wakes one up in the morning, and coasting down the bridge above my bus stop can proffer some nice vistas of the Allegheny River — views I wouldn’t get or experience the same way if I were going over the bridge in a car.
I’m sure that a few of the affable, middle-aged ladies that get dropped off right at the bus shelter must think I’m crazy to bike in the winter. But if I didn’t take that (admittedly mild) risk of removing the layers of metal and glass that an enclosed vehicle provides against the elements, I would be a few pounds heavier, a little poorer, and have one less nice thing to look at. Taking risks can pay off. The same goes for writing, because our characters take risks, and they take more grand risks than most of us will ever do…otherwise it wouldn’t be a story worth telling. Wouldn’t it make sense to put ourselves at risk, even if it’s just a smidge, like the characters we write about do?
There was a great scene in Stranger Than Fiction, where a renowned writer played by Emma Thompson sits in a torrential downpour with only Queen Latifah and an umbrella to protect her. They are watching cars travel along a bridge so that Thompson’s character can imagine a car crash for her current book project. She didn’t need to sit out there in the rain with her cigarette and an exasperated assistant to get the scene right, but it most likely helped (remember, if you’re a writer you have to smoke and, if it can be pulled off believably, be neurotically British).
Like I’ve said before, writers like to think of their vocation as something transcendent, something that they were made to do. When one invests so much time forming imaginary lives inside their head this manner of thinking can be a natural inclination. Physically, though, it’s really an unglamorous situation to an embarrassing degree. Someone enraptured in the actual process of writing a story can appear no different than someone eroding their life away playing Farmville or watching a Youtube video of an attractive women repeating the same sentence in different accents. Because of this we have to gussy up our pursuits with lofty phrasing and “no one understand my genius” self-vindications for overlooked manuscripts and concerned families. The job is naturally attracts introverts, who are (I think) averse to risk a little more than others. So writers who know themselves to be this way would do their work a service to do something out of the ordinary once in a while.
Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday is a mystery novel about a poet and secret agent, Gabriel Syme, and his mission to infiltrate an inner circle of anarchists in early 20th century London. He first meets Lucian Gregory, a fellow poet and one of the anarchists, and through some verbal sparring he goads Gregory into willingly taking him to one of hideouts where the anarchists meet. After further investigations Syme learns that the anarchists aren’t what he previously thought.
G.K. Chesterton’s more well-known works are quasi-theological in nature (The Everlasting Man, Orthodoxy), but like the Father Brown Mysteries he deftly weaves morality and spirituality into the story so that the ultimate meaning of the book is more fable than fictional. He is primary a commentator on Christianity and modern (in his time) moral sensibilities, then during his later years, his experience with Catholicism within the environment of a very Anglican Britain. It helps to think of Thursday in this context, and not as just a mystery novel with philosophy bolted on as an ideological MacGuffin or a literary afterthought.
Thursday was written very early in the 20th century but the plot plays out with fascinating action film-like pace. Chesterton’s England is rife with peril yet exudes surreality, not quite the horrific — villains’ features are exaggerated but not deformed, the shifting environments serve as an off-tinted backdrop for the hints of steampunk mechanics and fashion, and the dangers Syme constantly stumbles into slant into the comedic. Despite Thursday’s highly didactic nature, Chesterton’s renowned topsy-turvy wordplay and descriptive chase scenes make this book a perfect candidate for motion picture treatment.
A photographer friend of mine, Jonathan, was telling me about a discussion he had with someone at a video shoot we had just covered for Noisecreep. This person asked Jonathan how to become a photographer. He said his response was this, roughly paraphrased: “I didn’t really know what to tell the guy. The way you become a photographer is you get a camera and take pictures. And you don’t stop taking pictures.”
The guy was more than likely asking how to become a professional photographer — how to monetize on the skill — but Jonathan’s statement still holds true. And it holds true for writers as well. The way you become a professional writer is you start writing and don’t stop. The industry and business side of it takes care of itself as it things progress — not that it’s automatic or turn-key, but the politics of the writing industry is the same as any other industry. Those of us with normal-to-awesome socializing skills who can build bridges instead of burn them are able to make a career out of it.
More than that, though, is that you can write without writing. You can read; reading is just writing in reverse. When you read, hopefully, you are picturing the characters and scenes within your imagination, and maybe even predict how things may turn out. Writing is the same but going in the opposite direction: a story idea springs up, character personalities and motivation and bits of dialogue or plot elements are conceived, all leading up to the grand codifying and commitment to paper (or screen). It’s a little saccharine adage among writers that good writers are often good readers.
Contrary to what most writers would like to think, their romanticized vocation is not so esoteric; they are not some specialized strain of human being that perform the handiwork of the apotheosized. Anyone can learn to write, and anyone can learn to write well. It just takes a commitment.
So if you’re looking to write, you’ll need to see to it that you’re writing all the time, but you need to read all the time. Read modern bestsellers and classics. Read bad books and figure out where they went wrong, then read great books and wonder what the fuss is all about. Read old books about a future that happened a decade ago, then read recent books about an alternate history. Read a chapter in your Kindle and a chapter in the print book and see which one feels more interesting. Read a fantasy series backwards. Spend a year and see how many banned books you can finish, or books that will surely offend — read books with “nigger”, “fuck”, and “cunt” smeared generously, like mud, all around the insides. Or read books that you won’t agree with: Christians should read The Upanishads and The Necronomicon; atheists should read the Summa Theologica and The Koran, agnostics should read Why I’m Not a Christian and Orthodoxy.
You need to cram your head so full of words that your toenails pop off your bloated body. Then lay off the laptop for an hour, grab a sheet of unlined paper and a pen, and write until there’s no more room on the page…then continue writing until the words are off the edge of the desk. Then all you need to do is get the right person to notice it.
Hanukah starts at sundown today and it snowed a little bit in Pittsburgh, so to celebrate these two unrelated events I set up email subscriptions to jd.com — in case you’re one of the five people that read this site and are scared of URL locators and RSS readers.
You will make your inbox vomit. Vomit with joy.