Friday, November 13, 2009

Turning Point

Blogging is an odd contribution to my writing skills. If the differences between my first Bottega Favoritta post and the second are any indication, I’ve gotten better at it. I thank Andrea Askowitz and Lip Service for giving me the discipline I’ve needed to get my point across with fewer words.

A friend of mine who teaches at a private school of some note decried the state of his students’ papers. He tries to explain the importance of revisions to a sea of blank stares. His students’ confusion is the confusion of the novice writer: “You mean writing isn’t just dump and flush?”

In part, yes. Chuck Palahniuk even makes this comparison during his readings. He knows some writers believe writing every day is important to the craft, but he only writes when the urge is hot.

“Put it this way,” he says with a sly grin, “do I sit on a toilet, waiting until it’s time to take a shit?”

Of course, Palahniuk has eight books published. He can afford to court his muse however he likes. But to a novice, waiting for inspiration is just self-delusion. A hundred things will fill your day before you “find the time” to write. Once you’ve made the decision to be a writer, you need to write, every day, for at least a few years. Until you can just sit down and do it without waiting for… whatever. It’s just a job, a skill to be honed, not some mysterious lighting bolt from God.

Don’t get me wrong, dump and flush is an important part of the process. That’s why I began writing at five AM in the first place, before coffee, before breakfast, putting my thoughts to paper without judgment, as close to that waking-dream state as possible. I don’t rely on that so much anymore, although that’s still where my best new ideas emerge. Starting a fresh piece, it’s important to follow the muse.

Writing is revision. It’s setting your words aside for a time and returning to them with fresh perspective. Ironing, twisting, whittling. If you’re lucky, you may even have some readers you trust who won’t bullshit you about the weaknesses and strengths of what you’ve written. Don’t fall in love with your words; when people suggest edits, they’re right ninety percent of the time.

I like at least three passes at something before anyone reads it. This flies in the face of the blog, or at least the entries which are supposed to be a record of my day-to-day life. I revised the Leonard Cohen post three times in two days and didn’t lose much time getting it posted, but that’s rare. I like to take my time, which leads to some inconsistencies. I wrote Reflecting Pool with a mind for the next round of Lip Service some weeks back, but then decided it didn’t quite measure up. That’s why it has a little more behind it than some other posts, and why it sticks out as a throwback to the misery surrounding me when I settled into my new digs. Next thing you know, I’m developing feelings for Cleopatra.

If you’re reading these as I post them and they come across as contradictory, I apologize. But I need to revise.

Of course, people are full of contradictions. That’s part of what makes us fun. James Ellroy started his recent reading at Books & Books with quotes from T.S. Elliot and Eudora Welty, and called Don DeLillo's Libra a huge influence on his Underworld USA Trilogy. Later, he said he has no influences and never reads anything but his own work. For inspiration, Ellroy said, “I sit by myself in a dark room and brood.”

Now I’m pushing my blog into murky waters. What my style of posting does to the tone of “Sweet with Fall and Fish” can’t be helped, but the content is up to me. I’m dating someone special, and my instinct is to write all about it (within reason, of course). I’ve followed blogs which became profoundly boring when they try to be coy, posting without revealing too much.

How much do I write about what’s happening now? Do I take Cleopatra at her word that this blog is “my thing,” that it has nothing to do with her?

Even writing that question is odd. Shouldn’t I be asking her? Of course, she’d assure me to write whatever. We’d all like a secret window into what our friends and lovers really think of us, but what if she sees something she doesn’t like? Further, how honest can I really expect myself to be, knowing she’s reading?

Also, the creation of a relationship is largely the business of the ones creating it. If you’re curious, take a listen to Charlie Rich's Behind Closed Doors. For the time being, I’ll post praise where praise is due, but I’ll save my doubts for Cleopatra’s ears.

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