On Writing, I

Writing creatively is difficult. Doing it well requires an extraordinary mixture of self-control and insanity, substance abuse and abstinence, structure and inspiration. It’s like walking a tight rope on ice skates. It’s a maddening industry, too. On the one hand, you have to say something new in an innovative idiom, while on the other, you have to be conventional enough not to be laughed at by the MFA industry that runs the journals. And you can’t get an agent without the journals, unless you’re a completely unfettered genius, which I am not.

I do think that the most important thing for an aspiring author to do is to develop a unique voice, one instantly recognizable and distinguished from all the other gaunt ramen-fed faces in the literary crowd. I think I have that step down. I lack confidence in most areas of life, from putting air in my tires to writing my congressman’s most junior aide, who probably doesn’t read my pleas anyway. I do, however, think that my style is fairly unique, which isn’t to say it’s good. Just germane to my own ghost-inhabited brain.

It’s the next steps that foil me, that lead me into the valley of the shadow of impotence. Dialogue, plot construction, symbols, et al. I read Pynchon and wish that I could write a sentence with as much manic verve and straitjacket flair. I am good at creating images, because images besiege me in my waking hours and restless dreams, images of past experience, future loss, present despair and desperate hope. Sick and comic images, because humanity is ultimately a pornographic joke perhaps perpetuated by a chuckling deity, but more likely by a universe that doesn’t know what to do with sentience. La Comédie humaine — that’s the real story, but how to tell it?

I require a certain tableau to do my best work. It happens between the hours of midnight and five in a darkened room with only candlelight and the unsleeping glow of my laptop, Thomas Tallis or Hildegard von Bingen at loud volumes, cheap red wine, and some sort of smoke, legal or otherwise. I read an interview with Philip Roth the other day. A page a day is his goal, which is admirable and worth imitating. I have set a goal of 2000 words a day, blogging excepted. Yet the man works in the morning post-workout, and can write ten pages in a day when the spirit takes him. This I do not understand. I feel only the Dionysian, the flushed exhilaration of sudden inspiration, the tongues of flame that descend at their appointed time. But I know that this will to creation is ultimately a call to a sort of self-immolation. The lasting drive to surrender oneself to some sort of inspiration, be it from the angels or from Mephistopheles. The latter worked for Leverküsen at least.

~ by Benji on February 3, 2009.

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