RULE #1: Write Alone.
Writing is like masturbation. It’s best done in private. It’s awkward when done before an audience. If a spouse, significant other, roomie, or BFF ever says, “I want to watch you write. I’ll just sit over here and be quiet,” gently and lovingly kick their ass out. People are noisy and noise is distracting and distracted writing is bad writing.
My writing area is in my son’s room on the home PC. There is a window on my left shoulder and a door on my right. The significance of the strategic placement of these objects will be made clear shortly.
I write with music. Jazz when I’m trying to get my thoughts straight and rock when my mind is a jumbled puzzle of chaos and disorder. And not just any kind of rock. The the loud, brutal, head banging kind of rock. I serve up some Korn, Nine Inch Nails, Ministry or Rob Zombie when I need to blow the bad shit out of my brain. This is the kind of music you wouldn’t play for your grandparents unless you didn’t like them and wanted to drive them stark, raving mad.
I don’t have a dog but if I did, I’d keep it out of the room when I’m working. Dogs may be man’s best friend, but not when he’s lost in a thought. Some dogs are patient and comprehend their master is busy at the moment and does not want to play catch or get licked on the face. Other dogs don’t give a shit. Those dogs are every bit as much of an attention whore as a Kardashian near a camera. They gotta go.
Cats are the same way. When they want to petted, stroked or fed, they want what they want and don’t care what you want. If you simply must have a pet in the room limit it to a goldfish. A goldfish doesn’t need to be walked and isn’t going to jump in your lap breathing its hot stank breath in your face. Added bonus: If a goldfish starts bugging you, pour it down the toilet and get another one just like it tomorrow. After you’ve finished the Great American Novel.
A window can be a distraction if you allow it to be one. I get inspiration from the sights, sounds (and occasionally the smells) of the world outside. If I lived in New York City I’d be overcome by sensory overload. I won’t say it makes the work go any easier, but it can be a welcome break from the occasional grind of getting the words to line up just so.
The door doesn’t offer as much inspiration, but it does afford a certain degree of privacy. Privacy is important when you’re writing, but I keep the door open wide enough so when others in the house pass by they realize my groans, moans and sighs are based upon frustration with how the work is coming and not satisfaction because I’m touching myself inappropriately (I did say writing was like masturbation, remember?).
Plus, if you write in your pajamas, ratty old house coat, tighty whities or butt nekkid, do you really want the rest of the world to see you looking like a red-hot mess while you’re furiously tapping away at the keyboard?
RULE#2: Writing does not require a suggestion box.
There is a terrible misconception non-writers have about writers. Or to be specific, non-writers have a terrible misconception about me as a writer. I don’t write for them. I write for me. I have no idea what I should write to please an audience, so I try to please myself and hope an audience finds it pleasing too. This is the only way I know to make it work. I’m not sure any other way does.
” Jeff, why don’t you write about (fill in the blank)?”
Oh, maybe because I don’t want to, that’s why? I’m a opinionated and informed man, but there are many things I’m not informed of and have no opinion on. Some subjects take time, research, fact-checking, verification, analysis, data-mining and just more plain hard work than a 500 word blog post can do justice to.
There are hundreds of stories I would like to tell but can’t because of a lack of time to tell it the way it needs to be told. If you can’t go all the way, why go at all? Nothing is as obvious as sloppy writing because the author cut corners, took shortcuts and generally half-assed it.
You want to know why I can’t stand Rush Limbaugh? Not just Angry White Man persona, boorish behavior and caveman politics, though that’s plenty reason enough. How can I trust someone who never says, “I don’t know.” Limbaugh always has an opinion about everything. Whether it makes any sense is not the point. Rush will always have a point whether he knows jack or shit about the subject.
Limbaugh is what my dear departed Daddy called, “smart-ass White boys. They pontificate, they pronounce and they pose when in truth not a one of them knows nuthin’ about nuthin’. How many times are writers told to write what they know? Well, what if you don’t know anything?
I’m a writer and a journalist, not a talking head, not a professional pundit and prognosticator. Whatever little credibility I have comes from knowing when to call my shot and what the game is before I do. You can’t predict the pitcher with scorch a 90 mph slider across home plate the sport is basketball, not baseball. It makes you look ridiculous and I hate to look ridiculous.
Which is another way of saying I not only write what I know, I write what I’ve learned and if I have learned nothing and know nothing, I write nothing. Case in point: Hey, Jeff! Did you see the cover of Vogue magazine with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West? What did you think about that?!
Insert vacant stare here. You can add a little drool coming from the side of the mouth to the effect.
I didn’t think anything about it. What do I care about people I’m not interested in on the cover of a rag I don’t read? Put Kimmy Cakes on the cover of Field & Stream or National Geographic if you want. I still cannot begin to tell you how many damns I do not give.
Easy reading comes from hard writing. For me, writing about the lives of the rich and for no reason famous is like being waterboarded with gasoline; It might not kill me, but I’d sure wish i were dead and put out of my misery.
People who make suggestions of what you should write do it to be helpful. I get that. They also do it because what they want you to write is probably something they want to read but lack the skill to write it themselves. That’s understandable, but seriously–go take a class or something and learn how to DIY.
There’s this quote from Bill Hicks I liked so much it’s on the header of my blog, “I don’t mean to sound bitter, cold, or cruel, but I am, so that’s how it comes out.” I’m not opposed to people making suggestions and bringing something to my attention, but I have my stuff to do and coming up with ideas of what to do next has never been a problem for me.
Rule#3: I am not a tortured artist.
The biggest load of bullshit since the fertilizer truck turned over on the freeway is this nonsense you must write everyday. Uh…and what if you don’t want to write today because you don’t have anything you want to write about? This thing about writers suffering for their craft is a total load. If writing drove me to drink, depression and despair, I wouldn’t do it. I’d learn how to crochet or take a long walk around the park on a sunny spring afternoon and synchronize my eyes checking out the pretty girls jogging. Who needs a splendid miseries in their life? Not me. I want to be taken seriously and respected, but it’s not so vital to my existence if I remain obscure, unsung and unnoticed that I’m going to jump from a great height and turn myself into street pizza. It ain’t no ways that important. Maybe in death I’ll earn the kudos I hoped would be forthcoming in life. More likely that’s not going to be the case.
Stressing out when the words on the paper or screen don’t line up as precisely as they do in my head is frustrating, but hardly a reason to torture myself. I’m a serious writer, but writing isn’t all that serious.
Writing has a therapeutic effect on me. I haven’t gone out and bought a gun because I can write out my anger. I haven’t killed any of the richly deserving bastards who so desperately need to stop breathing air because I can call them bastards in my writing. I haven’t broken the law with my deviant fantasies and violent tendencies by setting them loose on an unsuspecting world because all that dark, creepy stuff has an outlet with the power of the written word. All of us have our inner demons. Writers have found a way to pimp theirs out and make a buck off of them and it is a darn good thing we have. There would be a lot more socially maladjusted serial killers and sexual predators if they couldn’t get their ya-yas out pressed between wood pulp and selling for $25.95 on Amazon.
I am not a martyr for my art. I do not suffer silently in a life of quiet desperation. I am not a tortured artist craving your acknowledgment and pleading for acceptance. Far from it. I’m a good writer and dammit I know I am. That long dark night of the soul stuff? Been there and done that and got the T-shirt to show for it.
My confidence in my ability came the old-fashioned way: I earned it. I know what it feels like to be ignored, to be belittled and to be told in no uncertain terms you suck eggs. If you can’t cope with rejection, don’t be a writer. You won’t last because when the whole world seems as though its conspiring against your talent you got to believe in yourself. That’s the only thing that will pull you through and enable you to come out on the other side with your soul intact.
I do not suffer for my art. Far from it. I write what I like because I like writing. As Gloria Steinem once said, “Writing is the only thing when I’m doing it, I don’t feel like I should be doing something else.”
I know what she means.