A Cup Of Tea And A Few Words On Writing

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Kurt Vonnegut said, “The primary benefit of practicing any art, whether well or badly, is that it enables one’s soul to grow.”

Writing is a spiritual journey. It’s about coming to terms with solitude. It can be a black hole of despair or a rich well of inspiration and enlightenment. It’s about knowing when to be tough on yourself, and when to be gentle.

There are those, many I suspect, who suggest joining writing workshops, even hire a good editor, but seriously, to find your own voice, you better know when to break every rule you’ve learned, and have the courage to one day set your Ph.D. editor alight, and having burned him or her to the ground, beat those sorry ashes with a big stick.

Look, take it from me, a writer who has failed at just about everything, get out of your own damn way. Don’t try to figure writing out, just get down the first draft, if it’s good or bad, to heck with it, it’s done, give yourself a champion medal, or a good drink (my preferred choice), it’s cheaper than therapy and you’re going to need it if you’re going to be an artist in this cold, competitive culture.

So, no matter what it is: essay, short story, children’s story, adult story, poem, novel, or a pickle recipe, don’t try to make it literary. Make it real. Open your heart and don’t flinch.

And don’t become an alcoholic. (Okay, if you want.)

Writing fiction is all about possibility, romance, and imagination. It’s freedom from black and white. Writing, of course, is was always so much fun when an idea comes floating by, waiting to be plucked out of the air and thrashed onto the blank page of a word document. But writing, I have found, is mostly about NOT having an idea and then that the blank whiteness becomes some absurd monster waiting to devour you.

I approach the blank page as the beginning of a new adventure or, as some days have proven, a self-assumed trip into purgatory with the computer screen screaming at me…

‘You can’t leave me…you cannot leave me like this!’

Look, don’t get on my case about this stuff. I don’t freakin’ know anything worth passing along. We all have different rules on how we settle down to write.

I seldom leave my house before writing five hundred words, by which time daylight has crept over the hills and my dogs, Reckless and Ragged are bouncing around, scratching at the door wanting to head down to the beach.

Before I headed out this morning, I wrote down this first sentence: I’m one of the world’s best-kept secrets! Hey, nothing wrong with that, right? Okay, I know there are better people than me in the world, maybe even a better writer. I have no qualifications with which I can justify this claim to you. I’ve seen vastly more intelligent men than me fail, simply because they lacked the grace of good manners and that fault crept into their writing.

Evidence. I’m mostly a drunk. (Check out my stuff)

I’m seventy years of age, and in all those years men and women alike have loved me; if by the word love we mean follow, then it is surely the truth, for men and women, big and small, young and old, tough, or just the plain sensitive types have followed me for one reason or another.

Recalling my youth, I was incapable of thinking too widely or too deeply, though I do recall being an individual thinker. Age affords us many advantages, not least of which is judgment. I’m not exactly certain when society, or whatever else it was that looked after a seventeen-year-old disturbed dreamer, kicked in, taking hold of me with wide arms.

Perhaps, like the Titanic, I was on my way toward adventure, showing the world that I could do anything — without considering what the consequences might be… consequences, in the end, had bone jarring results.

So what? I hear you say. So I have the damn credentials to write. What are yours?

For a while you can play around at writing. For a while. Then you must choose whether you’re driven by ambition or by passion. I’m not a writer driven by ambition.

If you need just ONE thing: Belief. Have the stomach for it. Live with what happens and make no bones about it. Write from the experience of age, and I hope you never write how sorry you are at fifty. Because it will be done. Finished. Make a damn decision as to whether you’ve reached a point where nothing else matters.

What if you get a thousand rejection slips, will it make the difference? Fucking right, it will. I can attest to that. But a life without having tried is a life that wasn’t lived. Forget all the drivel about editorial perfection.

A story or poem is first and foremost, a friend. Respect your readers. Even if you’re the only one that will read your work, respect yourself. Read your work aloud and you’ll hear things, good and bad, that you otherwise would have missed.

Finally, write for your own illumination and joy. It’s a journey, and if on that path you find riches and insight and humour and excitement, you can expect other grateful readers to accompany you.

Writing is a tunnel, not a wall.

And lastly, writing is knowing when to speak, and when to be silent.

And on that note, I’ll end.