“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don’t understand very much about what they do — not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.”
“On Writing, A Memoir Of The Craft”; Stephen King (2000).
Nita has tagged me with a meme. She, and the people who tagged her, want to discuss writing and what it means and takes to be a writer. Nita, God bless her, believes I’m a writer. It took a long time until I considered myself a Writer… weird but true. Weird because it’s so obvious being a writer is who I am, and who I have been, not just what I do. For example, my brother’s leather high school jacket had four different sports on his sleeves — track, volleyball, basketball,
sex. My sleeve, however, had “Poetry”. Which, to be honest, was mostly interpreted by the girls in my high school as “sex”. But that’s a whole other issue.
The meme has been changed slightly by each successive meme-r. The Original meme was about the strengths a writer must have to be successful. For myself, looking back over twenty-one years of Writing, the major successes I’ve had came from anger, bitterness, cynicism and sometimes spite. At least that’s what got me the Humour Columnist Award.
There are actually very few things a writer absolutely must have, other than a grasp on the nuances of their language. So…
Gabriel’s Five Steps To Being A Writer
1) Take it really seriously. I’d say “treat it like work” but most people treat work like they were sitting in an Internet Cafe.
2) Don’t set out to be a poet. People who want to be a specific type of writer are like Chris Columbus — he set out for India, hit Haiti and died depressed and alone. Go where your writing takes you, it’s a virtual certainty you’ll suck huge wood as a poet.
3) Learn how to write. Buying a hammer and some screws at Home Depot does not make you qualified to be a carpenter. It makes you a complete moron because to make those tools work you’ll need nails and a screwdriver. Buying some paper and a pen does not make you a writer. Writing is a skill, tattoo that on your fist.
4) When it comes to critiquing your writing your mother, cousins, girlfriends, boyfriends, teachers are all complete wastes of skin. Exactly what training do the have to be your critic? If they knew what they were talking about they’d be Stephen King. Is your last name King? Didn’t think so. Judge and compare your work to other people’s stuff, not to other people’s opinions.
5) Find someplace comfortable to work. If you’re comfortable writing in a Coffee Shoppe while listening to a little Bob Dylan on your iPod and sipping a Cappawhatthefukka you’re not a Writer. You’re a pop-culture victim. You need to find someplace you can sit for four to six hours and not be disturbed because, surprise, that’s how long it takes to write something. Real Writers write everyday for long periods of time, and to do this you can’t have “Hi, My Name Is Debbi” coming over every fifteen minutes asking if you want a refill.
Knowing the language isn’t enough, you have to know the styles in which that language can be written in… you have to see written material as a puzzle in which you’re searching for word combinations. If you can find two words which together mean more than the ten words you were planning on writing then you’ve won. Listen to the lyrics in songs. Have a thesaurus in your head, so that when you here a phrase or word combination worth noting, you can run each word through your brain searching for a better word, a more important word, a word which will make the reader see exactly what you want them to see because writing — Writing — isn’t about simply leaving material for someone to read. It’s about forcing your ideas into their brain and overwhelming their imagination until they see exactly what you want them to see. Most people who read what you have written will interpret your work through their own experiences, and that’s not good enough because most people don’t have an imagination. If they did they’d be a writer. So when you want to make a point you’ve got to carve their brain out and replace it with yours. The only time you comfort a reader and tell them everything’s going to be okay is either after you’ve beaten them with a pipe for 300 pages, or as you’re about to beat them with a pipe for 300 pages.
You want to be Elmore Leonard? Of course you do, everybody wants to be Elmore Leonard. Well, Elmore Leonard reads books, magazines, newspapers… he reads other Writers. Read the best books, the real books — 1984, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Catcher In The Rye, Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, I Claudius, The Little Prince, Watership Down, anything by Mordechai Richler, George Bowering, James Herriot. Fuck, go to the local magazine shop and start buying comics. Read a Marvel or DC comic for a full year, one character for twelve issues. Find out why people read them. While you’re at it, pick up a Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler. Porn is a style worth knowing — learn how to turn someone on, get them hard or wet using nothing but the written word. Learn six different ways of referring to someone’s genitals, and I don’t mean single words. Learn how to make someone weep or laugh or feel as though they’ve learned something. Watch a Soap Opera for a month and learn the structure which makes them addictive.
Writing is something you learn, no baby ever popped out of mommy and signed a book contract. Writing is a trade, and you have to learn a trade. And that means reading and understanding how the writer has used the words to make you feel what you’re feeling. You cannot understand yourself until you understand the world around you, and you can’t do that if the only thing you’ve read are the abbreviated articles in Reader’s Digest… but make damn sure the Digest is something you read regularly.
There are a million different styles of writing, and a million different places you can write. If all you do, day in and out, is write a political essay or knitting column, you’ll be bored and you’ll be boring… and, quite frankly, you won’t be much of a writer. Everything you learn from one style can be applied to the other styles. You can take the eroticism you learn from pornography, change the language but keep the feeling and intensity, and create a poem or a column no one has read before.
You have to learn how to express yourself in as few words as possible. And that means being able to edit yourself. It means being ruthless, brutal with yourself. It means taking the first four paragraphs of a finished work, erasing them and rewriting. It means changing the structure of something you thought was finished and making something completely new.
Now… if this were a seminar you’d all owe me $300 bucks now. But I’m pretty jacked up on the Diet Pepsi so I’ll let it go. Next time you read this, however, it’s full price.