Saturday, March 2, 2013

Permission to Write Rubbish

Why are so many people afraid of so many things, but they’re never afraid of mediocrity?
Alex Bogusky and John Winsor

My students all have writer's notebooks that they carry around with them so whenever they get inspired or hear some juicy conversation, they can quickly jot down their ideas or snatches of talk in their little incubator notebooks, and use their seed ideas to create stories or poems or narratives later on.  They have pages reserved for favorite words, memories, feelings, and list of all sorts that will inspire them to write.

I've been keeping a writer's notebook of one sort or another for the better part of 40 years now and probably have tens of thousands of pages of nonsense, most of which is moldering in my storage locker outside of Seattle, some of tucked in my desk at school and others in safety vaults and storage boxes all around the planet.

Truth be told, most of what I write is inane: my guess would be that at least 80% of it is detritus.  But there's gold in "them thar hills," and the job of a writer is to keep writing no matter what, and then be willing to sift through the sh#@t and find the flecks of gold.

I'm not saying everything I publish is anywhere near the gold standard or even silver: most of it is more like costume jewellry, in fact.   But then again there's nothing wrong with a bit of flashy, cheap jewelry that attracts attention and looks pretty.  I'm not looking to be the best of the best (I'll save that for the likes of John Irving and Alice Munro), but I am looking to entertain and put out some modicum of literature that does not prove distracting by its poor punctuation, prosaic by its overbaked metaphorical allusions or just plain predictable and banal.

Because, yes, I write for myself, but I also write for an audience.  Those 10s of 1000s of pages mostly deserve to be buried under the volcanic ash of unwanted paraphanalia in my storage locker, but some of it also deserves to see the light of day and to be seen by the enlightened reader.

So I tell my students to let go of their monkey minds and let their pencils bleed onto their writer's notebooks or their fingers tap onto their google docs as the case may be, but not to censor, just to write. The hard work is what comes later: the editing, the culling, the finessing. I love that part too.  How gratifying it is to watch a piece evolve from so-so to stellar; how great is it when you can toss out all those tired metaphors and replace them with figurative language that sucker punches you with its vicissitude rather than simply "jumps off the page?"

I'm all about just getting it down, throwing a lot of it out, finding the shiny gems that are sunk in the shite, polishing them up a bit, and getting them out to whatever person who happens to choose to or at least stumble upon my humble attempts at writing.

Because what is writing for if not to share?

PS: One of the most inspiring people I have read as of late is Seth Godin.  His premise is that it's important to not only write something every day, but to share it; that it's not about waiting until perfection finds itself hidden in your product or your writing, but that after a bit of polishing, you actually take the risk and put it out there.  In the age of Internet, you can edit and revise and repost your work, but it's good to step off your jagged cliff and share, even if you've not reached your impossible-to-reach pinnacle of perceived perfection.

Be willing to have an audience, even if it is a critical one.  Godin cites Steve Jobs and how he put out his products, flaws and all, and that later how his team improved on them and put out more and better products based on the earlier ones.  But if he never would have put them out in the first place, Apple would not be the multi-billion corporation that it is today.

Worth considering, right?  For those of you who are writing but not sharing, take the risk and start a blog today.  It just takes a few minutes to set one up.  Cull through some of your old writing, spruce it up a bit, and share it with a few friends to start with.  Who knows where it could go? 

No comments:

Post a Comment