Thursday, August 15, 2019

How to Pack for a Writing Session

Some years back, you found the short story from Richard Bausch,a writer you've subsequently read more of, bought some of his collections, even reached to point of following him on Facebook because of his one- and two-paragraph essays about the writing craft.

Most of those essays-in-miniature strike some chord of recognition within you. Generous, patient, revealing, the essays in many ways demonstrate the themes and conditions in Bausch's writing. The biggest take-away of all is the satisfaction you get from these short paragraphs and the longer, more layered texture of his stories.

Reminds you how important for you to come away from a finished work with the sense of having shared some eavesdrop of the various aspects of you, brought to life from your interior to the status of realized characters in a story.

Bausch helps you to expand on your own sense of the multiple aspects of yourself dwelling with in, wanting their time to be heard or at the least recognized. You do so when you are at work on a new narrative and when you are seeking a way to give voice to a concept buzzing about as though it were a female mosquito and you had Type O as your blood type, human Type O being the fave snack of the female mosquito.

You begin with a kind of Twelve-Step meeting in which aspects of you come forth to introduce themselves and defend or tell the truth about some quality inherent in them that provides a visa for them into your story.  You rather like this because you can hear those dissident aspects of yourself calling out bullshit on their defense mechanisms, their excuses, their justifications.

You've also given a nod to your love of the theater by issuing casting calls, individuals interested in appearing in the drama to be built about a concept that intrigues you but which is not often clear to you. In this setting, everyone wants the lead role. Reminds you of your pre-teen student days, eager to not only supply the correct answer but as well supply supplementary information. Yes, some of your characters want to bring in more than a backstory; they wish to bring in the entire narrative, then serve as set director as well.

Many of the writers you admire produce a prose of near invisibility, taking you to the greater depths of the story, leaving you to consider other possible nuances as you chew over the emotional impact that has been bestowed upon you. 

You aspire to that invisibility. In consequence, your reading has suffered and your own writing has had to learn the newer reality of what comprises a day's work. Not all that long ago, you were thinking of a day's work in terms of words put on paper--as though that were some literary equivalent of sir Edmund Hillary's ascent--or keepable pages, both reflecting a word length rather than a word value. More often than not, the work itself reflected this vision.

As you learned earlier today, a work session involves mere sentences. You'd not wish to write an essay that required footnotes. In similar fashion, you're wary of fiction in which the narrative is overburdened with details, descriptions, and, alas, distractions.

A narrative--any narrative--does not require all that many modifiers. You still recall Graham Greene's autobiographical regret for having used one adverb: She smiled sadly. A narrative requires notional, driven individuals, following a story, which leads then into a rabbit hole from which they now struggle to escape.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019


You were governed by two opposing forces, early in the years you'd cast your lot as a writer. Those forces were--and still are--enthusiasm and impatience. You ached for the skills you saw in the writers whose work you admired; you were eager to do the equivalent of daily practice by writing. Sometimes you managed two stories a day. Other times, there was at least something to show for your efforts.

At one point, a person you admired spoke of you as being prolific, a word you well understood but did not see in connection with yourself. Ah, the callowness of your youth. You were some years learning how important revision was.

True enough, you were suspicious of things that were dashed off, first or second draft, but by then, you had a mentor, who published a short story with the title, "The Next, the New, the Promised," which became an early mantra, proof that some mantras are wrong. You later learned that a mantra was best conferred by a teacher who had herself or himself achieved a union with Brahman, at least once. At the time, the best you could do was equate having been published with the notion of a teacher having achieved Brahman.

Your eagerness for the life of the writer has not diminished. It has changed, as all characters in story must and as most persons in Life must. Without knowing so at the time, you were impatient for what and who you are now. You would do any number of things that now seem unnecessary or not productive in order to achieve the simple--or so you thought--state of being able to support yourself from writing.

Some of those things included writing a novel a month, which did not always pay the rent. This meant you had to write short stories and articles for magazines as well, all the while hearing those close about you wondering aloud when you were going to get serious. What they probably meant by getting serious meant writing novels, short stories, and essays that paid big bucks, appeared in top-rank publisher's lists and magazines. 

Some form of awareness sank in when you factored revision into the equation of producing an endless stream of material. The net effect was to slow the output.

When you look at things you did in the past, you often see things you are not as appalled by as you might suppose. The opening and closing pages of a novel published when you were a scant thirty years old remind you of the vision you had, even though you were not always able to see it.

The thing to be learned cannot be forced by enthusiasm or impatience. The thing to be learned must come from a regular application of words onto some medium, where you can see them clearly enough to be embarrassed by them and want to do something to them that will remove the embarrassment.

A few years from now, the things that you wrote in recent days or months may not embarrass you, although there is every chance they will.  Early last week, an editor, speaking of a short story you'd submitted, offered you the choice of including it in a journal or publishing it as a stand-alone. You chose the stand-alone. You also believe it is the best short story you've yet produced. But even so, you're already at work on the equivalent narrative of an actor who has just been given two awards, each for work he has little affection for.

The thing to be learned at this stage of your game is that you've chosen something to do that is nearly impossible for you to do well enough for your lasting satisfaction. You are eager to find something that is, and impatient to get on with it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Inertia of the Cosmos

Let's start with the basics:

You are a witness.

You see things...or you don't. No matter. The things that happen will happen whether you see them or not. Although you may cause some things to happen, mostly you are an observer, a ticket-holder to the theater of the known and beyond Universe.

In side effect, you may buy some popcorn, take a quick trip to the loo for a whizz. But you are in large measure a spectator. Nice as it would be to think so at times, the known and unknown Universes do not revolve about you, your tides, or whims.

Things happen or they don't.  You may even understand why some things happen or, as the matter happens, do not.  No matter. Things will happen or not happen on levels of subtext and sophistication well beyond your ken. You are, as noted, a witness, not a catalyst.

No matter how familiar you are with, say, Ohm's Law; when you plug an appliance into an electric outlet, more often than not the appliance will become operational. An appliance doesn't "work," you take it to a person who repairs such things or you replace the appliance. In the long run, the appliance is a given device that enhances your status as a witness.

Control involves a number of things in which you have limited interest or none at all. You find enough responsibility called for in being a witness, taking time here and there to record your observations of what you've seen.

Other witnesses may well view the same phenomena as you, record their own observations, then, as a consequence, find themselves appointed to endowed chairs at some university, where they may instruct others to observe and record. Their observations may achieve note in The New York Times Book Review as a best seller.

As a result of such observations of others, you may find yourself engaged in a process known as envy. Surprisingly, this observation produces a process only the Germans could manage to fit into one word, schadenfreude.  Pleasure at the discomfort of others. These individuals now have responsibilities, real and imagined, to burden themselves and their future activities.

These responsibilities are among the things you shed or never had in the first place, sometimes, truth to tell, unwillingly, but nevertheless shed.You did so in order to become as independent an observer as possible.

You go forth with no appointments to endowed chairs, your published works appearing like a sudden downpour over the New Mexico desert, eagerly soaked up by thirsty sand. You do so in full awareness that any schadenfreude you experience may well be the schadenfreude at your own expense. Couple of years at an endowed chair might not be all that bad. Couple of royalty checks in five or six figures might not take you away from your appointed task.

Whod'a thought you, at your stage of the game, would find himself in what is called in some circles a learning curve? Not you. Thus your basic awareness that The Cosmos has a sense of humor, the procession of events or their refusal to become events now informing much of what you see about you, as you continue to observe and attempt to learn something from the things you see happening and from the things you see that do not happen.