Been & Going

[TRENCHES] Ten Reasons to Fail at Writing

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I’ve been yelled at for going “meta” before – which is an insider term for self-awareness in fictional scenes – but it runs in my veins like blood (or, more likely, Wild Turkey). In a desperate effort to stem the deafening roar of dead air, I’ll throw this together. This is the season of excuses!

10. Writing is hard.

What? It is. You have to be incredibly clever and try to capture a little piece of thing that other people have assuredly done already. They probably phrased it better. Their gags were tighter. They even found a way of communicating something in the subtext that you wish you could. They make you mad with how good they are, in comparison to how good you aren’t. It’s not even worth trying anymore. Just sit in the back and shout swear words at inopportune moments as punishment for them exploring their brilliance.

9. Writing is not easy.

First off, you have to find something that skewers some semblance of truth while also capturing a unique voice or perspective on the matter. That’s a tall order before you even start! You’re so busy self-selecting and editing the possible future output, you haven’t even made it more than a paragraph after five hours of intellectual anguish. I think I know why people prefer typewriters; they are less troubled by liters of sweat. Why are my fingertips salt faucets? Doesn’t modern medicine have a solution for me?
Don’t you dare say gloves; no pair I’ve ever met can maintain their structural integrity when faced with the frigid perspiration of my panicked creative process.

8. It is difficult to write.

Seriously though! You start maybe four articles, lay them out in outline form, try to dial in some bullet-points based around signpost zingers. Before you know it, you’re looking at the cascade of destruction and thinking, man, what a better world this would be if I just got a little distracted by something on the internet. Oh, look! A video of a cat trying to be awesome, but totally falling off a thing. That’ll teach it to be so self-satisfied. Oh, look again! A video of somebody jumping off of a roof onto a trampoline, only to discover that such things were never accounted for in the original design process. You learned a valuable lesson today, junior birdman! Oh, look a third time! A witty, scathing take-down of a cherished piece of pop culture! Yes, that will teach you to love things painstakingly created for your enjoyment! Be more socially conscious, you guilty son of a bitch! Yeah, that felt good.
Oh, look, it’s 3:48 am and you haven’t finished your article. Well, you wrote a good outline; have some more nachos. You earned it, buddy.

7. The process of writing offers unexpected challenges.

The arduous composure of a pithy sign-off is finally over. You made a thing! You raged against the intransigent entropy of the universe and participated in creation. You exerted your influence on the world around you and nearly released to the world this perfect capsule of wit and insight about…shit. A cursory glance reveals the damning mediocrity of your sentiment. What you thought was a clever parable was unconsciously lifted – word-for-word – from an episode of Big Bang Theory you don’t even remember watching. Half of your jokes are from podcasts you don’t even recall listening to. The closing zinger is from a well-known internet meme, which, well, you knew, because you have a very specific set of audience. How do you even begin to reclaim this wreck from the clutches of plagiarism? Answer: you don’t. You shit-can it and start from scratch. But you’re already past deadline, so let’s go see what those cat trampoline article people are up to right now. Sick! Now I have a socially responsible reason to hate Space Jam!

6. Sometimes, you will face adversity when attempting to write.

Even when inspired and fully capable of recording your thoughts in a digestible format, you’ll hit those colloquialisms or inside jokes like IEDs on the road to Fallujah. Then you’ll look at the sentence you just tossed off and think, “seriously? I’m calling that up? I don’t have a right to engage that. I don’t even deserve to speculate about that whole experience that is entirely foreign to my own. Who cares what my thoughts or feelings are about that, no matter how carefully crafted they are from a lifetime of sharing experiences with a myriad of knowledgable people. You suck and you should shut up forever. You are a hack. Somehow, you found a way to put a collection of words together that recalls the specific burst of hydrocarbons that registers in the nostrils of the reader as a freshly-coiled turd from a sickly elder dog, carelessly squirted on the basement floor when left alone for an hour too long. You suck.”
And then, there are BAD days.

5. You might have too many jobs.

But what’s a 70-something hour work week between friends?

4. Writing is still hard.

It used to be so easy! Maybe it was because you didn’t care. Maybe it was because nobody was reading. Maybe even it was that you had so much more to say, but you’ve tapped the well and now you have to come to terms with this. There has to be an upper limit to how much you can output over the course of a life. Perhaps you’ve exhausted it? How does that feel? You’re not more than a third through the entirety of your existence, but you’ve already run out of interesting things to say. How’s that feel in the holiday season? You probably can’t even come up with anything to write on that card to somebody you’re vaguely related to. That is, of course, if you even remember to send holiday cards out this year. E-Cards don’t count. We all know this.

3. Writing is insanely easy.

We’re talking about a job where you create value for the society at large without ever having to lift things. This is a pursuit where you can give back to your community simply by being clever and moving your fingers and hands about quick enough to splat something together. Nobody is watching over you with an opinion about what impossible quality the light you’re focusing is supposed to embody. Nobody is breathing down your neck, desperately upset that you can’t make a low-quality MP3 pirated from an iPhone in some bar sound like a full-bodied studio recording. Nobody is actively cussing you out because the video file they gave you is in the wrong aspect ratio, codec and ends thirty seconds before “it was supposed to.” You don’t have to rig anything. You don’t have to screw anything to another thing. You just have to sit the fuck down and write.
This is the most terrifying thing in the universe.

2. There’s so much other content out there.

Hello! Welcome to the Internet. I will be your guide. Perhaps you would like to read arbitrary lists keyed to your interests? Right this way to the Archipelago of Buzzfeed. Ready for something a little more advanced? Perhaps I may interest you in a saucy jaunt to the Province of Cracked? You seem like a discerning sort. I have the very thing: follow me through the forests and wildlands to the Volcanic Basin of the Onion. The people hired to write for these sites are impossibly brilliant, a legion of self-aware cynics all too happy to snark with laser precision. I myself avail myself of their offerings whenever possible, usually to the detriment of my own output. How could you not? With the rich panoply of e-humanity pathologically contributing to the casual entertainment of the faceless, connected masses, why even bother adding when you can sit back and enjoy? There’s always a chance of delivering the perfect zinger in the comment section. I have a portfolio of my finest work.

1. Writing is fuckettygoddamned hard.

You may not have noticed the basic theme I’m working on here. I’m a ninja of subtext. I’m like the Dali of Jungian iconography. I’m like the Wagner of economically repeated themes. I’m like the O’Reilly of bombastic proclamations.
Writing really isn’t hard; it’s the allowance you make for the process of writing that is hard. The actual process of committing words to page (or screen) is laughably simple, but to foster a headspace that facilitates that output, with a comfortable period of time and laxity of other responsibilities to allow this to occur, that’s the real trick. So here’s my holiday hook: the best gift you can give to yourself is the opportunity to record some aspect of your human experience, no matter how flashy, crafted or erudite. Withdraw from the manic pace of your stupid, ugly life and scribble the thing. If you make that your habit, you will be more of a writer than most awkwardly-bearded, nebulously employed wankers currently orbiting the drinks tables of the orphan christmas parties of Los Angeles.
I’m pulling for you; we’re all in this together.

[LefthandedJeff] My Head in My Thinking Hand

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A little joke, riffing on what I’ve mentioned here before—I am one of those who carries around my own personal bard in my brain, ever singing the song of me. Sometimes—often? usually?—at the expense of me living the life of me.

Yes, I have a full-time narrator on duty. So most of the time I am multi-tasking. I am living my life on one track. On another track, close to simultaneously, though sometimes a little ahead or a few steps behind, racing to catch up, I am writing my life stories on the ever-unscrolling sheaf of perpetually scrawled-on white paper in my head. White paper-gray matter.

But as they say, you can’t truly multi-task, right? If you’re doing two things at once, you’re probably doing at least one of them sloppily. That is my fear.

So I’ve done plenty of Zen and other mindfulness work over the years, partly to counter all that. Also lots of mind-dumping: actual writing, where I write or type real words on real paper or a real lit-up screen. Both have helped a lot. More of both should help more.

In fact, without writing on a regular basis, I feel like I gradually get crazier by degrees. The ol’ brain barrel gets full of rainwater words and it comes time to dump it or that nasty green film starts to grow over it.

Which is to say, for better or worse, you’re not likely to be rid of me anytime soon…

[LefthandedJeff] The Day After the Day After Rain

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I love the earth the day after the day after a big rain storm. When the hillside in my back yard is still dark and visibly wet, where it had been light brown and dusty. A faint green stubble of tiny shoots covers the formerly dry and dead packed dirt. Overnight pink chrysanthemums have shot straight up and opened-out, “Ta da!” The jasmine I planted last July and nursed through hot months of bloomless drought finally sprouts buds, light green, incipient flowers folded inside but peeking out, like white lace. I go to take a photo of them with my phone and only through the view screen do I spy it, under a dark green leaf hood, almost unseen, the first little jasmine flower already born.

“Stress can be sexful,” she said to her longtime confidant. Then dissolved into laughter. “What did I just say? Sex can be stressful!”

Band name: 20% Tiptoe

Our emotions are a physical process of our bodies, like breathing, like farting. There’s nothing to be gained from critiquing them. Or attaching to them too fiercely, grabbing on for dear life. Though gentle attention is always nice.

Divide is conquer.

“Whatever you suppress is knocking at your door every day.” –Sweet Elise, aka The Diamond Cutter

Western magic—casting spells—is directing your attention to your intention. Eastern magic—meditation, yoga—is directing your intention to your attention.

Like a true WASP, I have been taught to suppress the parts of myself that might upset the people around me. But not letting myself have emotions is not letting others have theirs, too, isn’t it?

For every inaction there’s a no reaction.

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Suppressed emotion.”

“Suppressed emotion who?”

“Why the hell are you asking me?

Writing is how I try to slow down the world while I try to figure it all out.

Like many lit’rary types, I have a full-time narrator in my head, writing and rewriting the tale of my life even as it’s happening.

Time Retardant—a needed invention.

Everyone was very concerned
That everything work out
For everyone concerned.

To look around with wide eyes and an open spirit at the fantastic richness of every aspect of this world, this universe that we somehow exist in, I feel like you just have to come away with more questions than answers.

That seems true to me whether you look at it from a scientific point of view or a religious one. Or both.

No matter how we look at those ultimate questions: Why do we even exist? Why is there a universe at all? Where did we come from and what came before us? Where will we go and what will come after us?

I find more comfort in the questions than in answers that seem dreamed up or unearned.

Give me answers that go as deep as the questions, or I’ll keep dancing with the questions.

I love the day after the day after a rain storm…

Image credit: Me! (for once)