Saturday, October 11, 2008

All Roads Lead To Rome. (Writing about Writing)

A few of you have asked me to blog about writing. I assume you want something more substantive than this embarassingly accurate reenactment of my day:

Morning... Bleh. email, digg, facebook, email, cookies! Bleh. writing, bitching, itching, knitting, cookies! Bleh. TV. (repeat)

Here goes- Writing is the most rewarding and maddening endeavor I have ever undertaken. Sometimes you sit down at the keyboard and the keys just clickclickclick away like raindrop patter and every image is poignant and you ride atop a soaring wave of creative flow until suddenly you realize it's been 2 hours and 5 pages since you sat down and you exhale a sigh of supreme satisfaction. The world is a beautiful place and you have a beautiful real purpose.

These times are few and far between.

They are flanked by many large angry phalanxes of crappy times. Writer's block is, for me, a misnomer, because it suggests that if the writer were to use some figurative plunging or Draino-powered purging, everything would flow freely. When things are not flowing it never seems the fault of a "block," but rather the crappy crumbling system of my own cerebral plumbing. It's simply no good. It'd be cheaper to trash the whole damn thing than to try and fix a little leak or blockage. I feel like the paragraph I'm staring at is shit, the chapter I'm pondering is shit, the project, and by extension my entire pathetic creative career and very existence is shit...

OPTIMISTIC H: But I've done good stuff before, right? 
U.R.SHIT H: Irrelevant. The well has run dry... the best you can hope for now is that people won't realize when you slap tacky ornaments onto your old, withering, once-mildly-amusing ideas.
HANNUKAH H: Man I love ornaments... and Christmas trees. And ham! Driedels blow.
GOD-FEARING H: You're totally going to hell. Say you love Hannukah.
HANNUKAH H: Fuck no!
GOD-FEARING H: Say it or God will smite you and you won't be written down in his fancy yearbook of people who aren't going to die this year.
NEUROSIS H: Ohmigod Ohmigod Ohmigod I read this thing about black African ants that travel in enormous migrating mountains 10 million strong, and they destroy everything in their path, and if they reach you you die, but not by ant bite, you die by suffocation. 
H: Eiw!
GOD-FEARING H: See? God has some scary shit up his sleeve.
EGALITARIAN H: Her sleeve.
ATHEIST H: Nobody's sleeve.
AGNOSTIC H: Is there even a sleeve at all? 
BUDDHIST H: It is the empty space within the sleeve that defines the sleeve.

REALITY CHECK H: You are all so full of shit. Shut up. What were we talking about again?
U.R.SHIT H: How she's full of shit.
BUDDHIST H: Now now, even shit is part of the oneness of the universe.
SKINNYBITCH H: You're only saying that cuz you're ugly. And FAT. I thought you reached Nirvana by starving yourself under a tree for 40 days... did Nirvana come with a milkshake and a side fries?
BUDDHIST H: You know what? Peace out.
SKINNYBITCH H: That's right fatty- you run! Then maybe in a few millenia you won't be the Chris Farley of deities.

WIKI H: Let's google the gods of greek mythology!
SKINNYBITCH H: Or the Olsen twins!
EGO H: Let's google me!

My curmudgeonly friend Ned says that blogs are literary masturbation, and that nobody wants to read about "all those fruity feelings," and that I should only keep him posted in the event that something truly momentous occurs because why the hell else would he read me instead of Orwell? And with Ego H leading the way I find just the thing...

Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League, the guy who has protested everything from Dogma and The Golden Compass to Bill Maher and a statue of Jesus made out of chocolate, the 
guy who was featured in the Easter episode of South Park using a "doublecross" to seize papal power and condemn Jesus himself for "going against the church," quoted yours truly in a book. Whaaaaat?


My favorite part is that after my quote about icky teenage backstabbing he writes "...but not so with Jesus." I have found myself tempted to use this phrase a lot over the past few days, like "Working hard makes me want to get wicked high and play Halo... not so with Jesus" or "I think my brother tangled up the network with all of that online hardcore babysitter porn... not so with Jesus."

Anyway this just goes to show you how far I am usually led astray by bands of roving writerly doubt. One minute I'll be staring at a sentence unsure of what adjective to use and the next I'm having a full out existential crisis followed by an unstoppable craving for South Park, Redtube,  controlled substances, and the meaning of life itself. It's exhausting. 

The strange thing is that when you really are in the zone, when your fingers are flowing in perfect harmony with your thoughts, if you start thinking "oh wow I'm totally in the zone, hot damn that was a great metaphor," you plummet straight back into the pit. Don't overthink it. You can look back later.

Which is to say: I don't really like writing. I like having written. 

The satisfaction of looking back over a whole literary landscape you've crafted stone by stone totally... rocks. But the creative unconscious is a finicky creature who hates nothing more than the over-intellectual analysis that peppered so many of my best college papers. I've been reading a lot of 'writers on writing' and everybody seems to agree on one seemingly simple thing: stop trying so hard, don't be afraid to make mistakes, just do it.

The trick is that, just like with meditation, clearing your mind is much easier said than done. I find that carrying a notebook to get ideas out of my head is helpful, as is scribbling down a list of any "why you're an untalented loser" thoughts which get in the way of uninhibited writing. 

My favorite recent discovery is the fact that all good ideas and potent themes and meaningful truths that want to get written exist in a room with a million doors. 

Stay with me... so you can agonize over symbolism and stare at the computer for 12 hours trying to find the perfect topic or theme or chapter title, but in reality that thing has been waiting around the whole time for you to start knocking. Maybe you start knocking at a door with a picture of your dog on it, which reminds you of your Dad, which reminds you of that time you and your Dad went hiking and played harmonica in the abandoned barn and you realize what you really want to talk about is bonding through music. The door opens and suddenly you're inside- rehearsals, pianos, performance anxiety, it is a rich radiant room and now you're on a roll.

Or maybe you start knocking on a door that has nailpolish on it. And you start writing about painting your nails and that saxophone player who had sparkle nailpolish, or you knock on the sushi door and you write about the first time you ate California rolls in New York City and how your mother said if you didn't stand behind the yellow line someone might throw you into the subway tracks and how the buskers played the Star Spangled Banner as the 4 train pulled away. It doesn't matter what you start writing about because now you're inside the music room again even though you came in from the other side through a different door.

Stop worrying what's right. Write. **

**HYPOCRITE ALERT H: If Hannah could take this advice half as often as she dispenses it she'd have been onto book #4 last year instead of trapped on page 57 of book #1 for the third day straight. Damn.

Keep the faith. Keep smiling. Keep me posted.

H (&H&H&


  1. This is fantastic! The inner dialog is phenomenal! I am trying to climb that first steep hill as an amateur writer. I stumbled across your blog on Daily Writing Tips and was blown away to see that you had written the same post I just had - only a day earlier and much better. That'll probably be the story of my non-existent writing career - finding the same thing done earlier and better. What can you do.

    Anyway, I will check out more of your stuff when I have some time. I just wanted to introduce myself and say that I admired your style. If you ever feel like taking a beginner, podunk, college dropout from Utah under your wing; it would be cool to have a badass New Yorker as a writing mentor.

  2. Wow, thanks for the fast reply. I am letting the first draft marinate for a little while, but I have handed out half a dozen copies to see how the response is. The problem is, everyone who has read it has been very familiar with Utah Mormonism.

    I would love an outside opinion. I have an old email address from school I can access at work. It is

    Drop me a line and if you would like, I would be happy to send you the first draft and get some feedback - as long as it is BRUTALLY honest.

    Also, any help you can give me on the proposal part would be phenomenal. I have sent out a few agent letters, but I think I want the second draft done before I really try to do anything with it. I have grown to despise the preface and I know it needs at least two more chapters.

    Thanks again! Dan

  3. Great Post! So good to read more about your writing process, and thought it was hilarious that Ultra-Catholic conservative grumpy old man Bill Donahue, of all people quoted you, a young liberal, Jewish hottie. Just goes to show you that the universe is a stranger place than any of us imagined. Keep writing! You are awesome.

  4. so i guess it was 'Ego H' that posted the election night jitters diatribe on the comedy central site (not once, but twice) along with your blogspot address?

    well, george orwell *did* say that all writers were essentially vain, lazy, and maybe it all means something, it all bends towards something bigger...

    but then again probably not.