Writing as Looking Inward To Reach Out

So. This is the third or fourth essay on craft that I’ve written in a relatively short period of time. It may seem weird, I guess, since I’ve only had one story published to be having such firmly put ideas about what writing is and what it should be. But I guess this is a way for me to continually re-evaluate what writing is for me. And I hope that by doing this, I’ll be able to shed some light on it for others. Until I had written the essays, I really had no idea that I believed all these things about writing until I had finally written them down. I’ve been thinking about writing a lot, especially the purpose of it, or our motivations for it and lately I’ve come to the decision that it’s both very simple and very complicated. The reasoning I ran into while trying to wheedle out why we do what we do was ultimately ouroborous-like in nature. Once I had reached the end I had simply found that I had reached the beginning. When someone is foolhardy or sincere enough (not mutually exclusive) to actually ask the question of why one writes, he will invariably be given a list at once pretentious, sincere, ironic, and flippant by getting all different sorts of answers. This is to be expected, especially when considering what a diverse group of people can be found in a writing workshop. This particular question, I believe, is a twin, a mirror of the question, “What do you owe your audience and who do you believe that to be?” These two questions are at the top of a hierarchy of questions that are both posed to writers by others and that writers pose to themselves in quiet moments before, after, or even during the writing process. The reason these two questions are so important is the fact that they’re two separate sides of the same coin that may reveal the real purpose behind writing. By figuring one out, we can flip the formula and figure the second out.

The first question, why we write, is just almost too overwhelming and multi-faceted to even begin to wrap our heads around. For example, every writer probably has a different reason and most likely will have a host of different reasons all in descending order in his head–some reasons may be more powerful for others–but the first thing that happens with every writer occurs by himself with a blank page. I think that’s the first thing to consider. Before asking anyone’s permission to write, before we say that we wrote a story, before we say that we like writing, we first encounter the blank page and we learn the pleasure that it is to un-blank it. To fill it in, to decrease the negative space of that blank page. When we fill this negative space, we do so with things dredged up from within us. Each word is something we feel, think, wonder, posit, and on and on. And seeing this page become filled, in a way, legitimizes what we have felt and provides a way for us to look at ourselves in a new way, in a safe light that is free from judgment or from the fingerprints of anyone else in the world. This document and every one after it we create is, in a way, a piece of the last untouched soil in the world. The blank spaces on the map have been filled in, there are no more horizons to expand or explore, except for the ones that no one else can touch–until we let them. That’s step one. I believe, in a way, that’s why we write. We write to look inward. To bring the most honest parts of us to the surface and to fix them there and hold them up as artifacts of what we believe and who we are and what we value.

And so we then move on to the idea of what reader comes into our minds when we are working on our artifacts that we have dredged up from within. Normally, the answer that is given is usually along the lines of “someone who likes the same kind of works as me”. This probably isn’t too far from the truth, and yet, when we’re honest with ourselves, (literary writers, at least) we are usually meaning that the readers we imagine we are writing for are other versions of our very best selves. What I mean by this is that when writers put something down and before asking anyone else to read it, they decide that it’s good without asking for a second pair of eyes. They do it with only the judgment within themselves that the piece before them is up to their standards of what is good and that if they were the reader of the piece, they would find it worthy of their time and effort. And so if we writers are writing and judging a piece ourselves, where does the actual reader come in? Why is he necessary? Is he necessary? What responsibility does a writer have to the reader? I believe that where the reader comes in is right there—when the work is ready to be read, not only by the writer himself or his close friends, but by the public at large. When the writer’s book goes out into the world, the writer has essentially polished that original artifact from within and made it as perfect as it was possible to make it. Now, given that the writer has given this to the reader in order to make of it what he will, the question must be asked as to what the writer expects from the reader, which I believe to be the real question, or even what the asker of the question actually means when he asks what the writer’s ideal reader is, which is “what does the writer expect from his reader?” I believe that the writer expects the reader to be someone who is willing to put aside a great deal of time in order to read what he has written and to make a sizable effort in order to ascertain what it was the writer was trying to say with this piece of himself. Now, in order for this to occur, the writer must ascertain what it is he owes to the reader. This is, I think, ultimately the most important question regarding the writer/reader relationship. The writer has to determine what responsibility he has to his ideal reader. It is in this final decision the writer makes that determines how his writing will be seen—the object of writing as I see it, the purpose of it is to look inward to reach out. The whole act of writing is an act of introspection. In writing, we hold up that piece of ourselves to the reader and it is in that last holding up that we reach outward, letting the reader be the judge of that piece of ourselves we hold most dear, most secret, most sacred. And that is what the writer owes to the reader. The writer’s responsibility to the reader is to make that piece of himself that he has put into his book to be the truest, most honest piece of himself he can dredge up. No more, no less. The writer should not be glib, should not be flippant, should not be egotistical in his writing—he must write as if talking to a lover, as if talking to a best friend, as if talking to himself.

This was probably way too long of an essay in order to explore this pretty simple concept, but I’ve spent way too many nights and moments before, between, and after writing solely to contemplate this issue. After reading interview upon interview with authors in which the author is asked about his audience as well as the reason behind his writing, I think I actually came to a conclusion about how one can answer one question in order to get to the answer for the other.

Attention!

Hey guys, for those of you who follow my blog semi-closely, I just thought I’d let you know that last night I finished the first draft of my novel. 105,000 words later and I have no more to write on the actual story line. From here on out it’s all revision and editing and debates with my best friends about what goes and what stays in the text. Cheers! Thanks for reading the blog. It’s been a crazy struggle, and I’ve let this blog kind of go as I delved further and further into my book. But the way out is through and here I am, standing with a finished book in my hand. Fuck, this feels good.

The Beginning of the End

I have been writing my book since some time in November, when I was trapped in a hellish job where I slang corn dogs and sliced up chubs of meat for assholes who worked for Microsoft and Amazon. I know, what the fuck took me so long?! Honestly, I’m not really sure–though this is also the first book I’ve written where it wasn’t a rip-off of something else I have read, so it’s to be expected I suppose. But now, in the middle of summer I find myself so close to the end of my book that I can taste it. I say about two weeks more of writing 2,000 words a day should do it. With that, I mean I will be done with all the prinicipal word-writing. All the words to my book will be written two weeks from now. Two weeks. It’s so crazy to hear and to think that sometimes I feel like I don’t even want to finish my book. I don’t know if this is normal because I’ve never been at this point in the process where I’m so close to finishing something that’s such a part of me, but one part of me thinks that if I can just keep writing this thing forever, I’ll never have to tear it down.

I think one of the reasons for this fear of finishing is that the book is such a part of me that I balk at seeing what will happen when I show it to others. Not necessarily my friends who are amazing critics and who help me to refine my work as far as possible, but the people who I will send my work to for the final word on whether or not it will find representation or publication or not. I hate the idea that I am afraid of finishing my book because of what will happen to it when it is done but if I’m honest with myself, that’s pretty much it. Sending my book out into the cold cruel world is a frightening thing–especially to know that once I send it out, I’ll have to get to work on another project, whatever it may be. Maybe I’ll feel better about it after I’m finished. These may be the fears of someone who is on the brink of something awesome or wonderful and just doesn’t know it yet. This also tends to happen with people who are about to “level-up” in their writing, slumping into a kind of funk or plateau in their thinking or in their work right before a giant breakthrough pushes them forward.

Another reason I think finishing the book is becoming difficult is because somewhere in the back of my writer-brain, as I read the phrases and experience them coming forth, I know that on a sentence-by-sentence level as well as a conception-based level, I am far better a writer than I was when I began my project. On the face, this seems completely heartening and no cause for anything but celebration. But thinking back, that means 8 months of improvement will have to be reconciled once the book is done. Not only does this seem like hard work, it also seems like I should have my whole book immediately at the skill-level I am at right now, rather than having to be fixed in post. Petty and useless whining on my part, of course, seeing as how the finished product will hopefully be up to snuff. It’s just that fear one faces when looking at work done a while back and suddenly they are horrified to find that they could ever be that bad of a writer. It’s at then that the writer must stay in his seat, strap on his seatbelt, and roll up his sleeves because he has a lot of work ahead of him, just different from the kind that he has done up to this point. However, this kind of writing seems to be something different that I might enjoy. What’s more, I would probably be able to do this writing at one point and then switch over and work on something new, since one is being written with the editor brain and the other with the artist brain. Hopefully this will dispel some of the unpleasantness of seeing my older work that isn’t as good as I’d like it to be.

Something for all you writers to remember and keep in your ears: if you’re reading something of yours that you wrote a while ago and it seems terrible, this is a GOOD THING. It means that your faculties haven’t failed you and that you still have a good sense of quality work, and what’s more, you have probably improved in your writing and recognition of what is good, which means that the next time you write something, it will be better than what you have in your hand. And what’s even more, you’ll probably be able to edit the piece you’re reading right now to a point where it is better. Or, you’ll be able to re-write the story, this time in a way that’s even more aligned with what you envisioned for it in the first place.

By now, I’ve rambled sufficiently about my worries, fears, and then my silver-lining I’ve found in my worries and fears about finishing my book. Hopefully this was entertaining or instructive or both. Neither would be unfortunate, but at times I’m not sure if I’m writing these posts more for myself or for others. Either way, I learn as I write and I hope something of consequence is gleaned after I’m done.

Cheers!