WUI: Writing Under the Influence

In gin-o, veritas… or is it?

So far tonight, over about 4 hours, I’ve had 7 oz. of alcohol. Gin, to be precise, with various additives that allow me to count them as “cocktails” rather than “creative juice” or “apology fuel” or “insulation against criticism and escape from regret”.

It’s not that I can’t write without it; I can. I actually write better without alcohol than I do under the influence. But I am more open, and therefore more inclined to be honest, when I’m tipsy. Like every barfly anyone in the world has ever met. In gin-o, veritas.

F. Scott Fitzgerald conjugates “to cocktail”

Tonight I am battling criticism and regret. I am battling the sadness that comes from a breakup that I know — I KNOW — was my doing, if not precisely my fault. I always thought that creative writing was about expressing myself in a way that other people could understand — that would resonate with them, that might have light to shed on the human condition, if only to say, “You’re not alone.” (Most of the time I did not succeed, but recently I’ve been making some progress, and I’m kind of proud of that.)

But there is another side of that equation; the side of the other in any relationship that’s being described. The lover, the fighter, the sibling, the parent, the boss, the friend… all are fodder for the writer’s explication, but not all have agreed to be the vehicle for the writer’s message, especially when the message is either too general (“women are bitches because I knew this one who…”) or too specific (“this particular person in my life has disappointed me and let me give you the blow-by-blow…”).

Writing about one’s own experiences, how one sees a relationship from a certain perspective at a certain moment while in a certain emotional state may generate art or at least approach artistry. (It may also generate a meaningless, self-indulgent pile of shit, but let’s give ourselves the benefit of the doubt for now.) Is describing one’s perception of the other at that moment — for good or ill, accurately or not — a betrayal? Exploitation? Emotional plagiarism? Is it amoral?

Is the writer’s experience less valid because the other 
did not experience that moment the same way? 
Does that make the writing a damnable lie? 
A character assassination by sharpened quill?

Do the answers to those questions change when the writer specifically outs their other? Is Bob Dylan’s Idiot Wind any less artistic, is the emotion less universal, because it’s about his first wife? Or is it just a mean-spirited screed that he should properly have renounced and publicly apologized for? Should he have given her equal time on the album to record her side of the story? Would she have been justified in walking on stage during his performances and declaring, “This is about me and I’m here to tell you it’s not true!”

Even if the writing is not “about” someone, but uses their words, or their ideas, or their way of phrasing something in a conversation — is that actual plagiarism? Pilferage of their intellectual property? Piracy of sounds previously unwritten?

I believe in the free market of ideas — if my writing is mean, bitchy, cruel, exploitative, nasty, unredemptive, and/or a meaningless self-indulgent pile of shit, critics (i.e., other writers and readers) will call me out for that, actively with comments or passively by withholding shares and highlights. If my writing hits a nerve, if it serves the purpose of illustrating a universal truth in some way, hearts and highlights and huzzahs will accrue. I don’t write for sympathy or emotional support or to attract an audience of would-be therapists; I write to hone my craft, gain some satisfaction through improvement, to work through an intellectual and/or emotional process (which may or may not be the topic of the piece), and possibly to create something that resonates with or helps others. Everyone likes to be praised for their work; that’s an extra added bonus of participating in this writer’s salon called Medium.

Creative writing is real and not-real at the same time. It may be descriptive, accurate, and factual, but it may not for all that be truthful. And it may be inaccurate, fanciful, and wholly subjective, and still express a human truth. A clever turn of phrase, perhaps exaggerated for effect, often captures the essence of a character or an emotion better than a journalistic report of who/what/where/when. I remain anonymous to protect myself and the others who have not explicitly agreed to participate in this process, because there may be times when specificity about an interaction is the only way to convey or provide context for a larger point.

Despite that anonymity, does the other get to decide
how much creative license the writer may take?

This is the discussion I have had with myself for days now. There is no resolution. There is no reconciliation. There is no question I will not stop writing. I will not allow another to impose conditions on my creativity. But I have been processing these questions and wondering whether their answers — the ones I discover for myself and those of other writers and readers — will manifest in some degree of self-censorship. Or would that simply be appropriate personal restraint, a human kindness to all the others who may find themselves in my stories?

For now, I have cocktailed enough and written enough to quiet my brain and my heart and sleep. Cocktailest thou? If you have any good recipes for creative juice, please share.