It is that time of the year. Since we start off with elementary schooling, sometime before winter holidays, they teach us to start making resolutions for a new year, always to make ourselves better, think positive, correct our mistakes…
This process sticks with us, and as the years go by, the number of things that need to get better, the ays we have to improve ourselves and the mistakes we have to correct somehow seem to grow in number. Hopefully, we don’t end up like the main character in that Tom Waits’ classic, “Xmas Card From A hooker In Minneapolis”:
“Hey Charlie, for chrissakes, if you want to know the truth of it
[I don’t have a husband, he don’t play the trombone
I need to borrow money to pay this lawyer, and Charlie, hey
[I’ll be eligible for parole come Valentine’s day…”
Maybe that is a reason why almost everybody this time of the year keeps on coming up with these resolutions, for themselves, and it has become a fad to do those for others, including writers. I guess the hope is eternal. And it should be.
But at some point you get fed up with those, but you can also ask yourself, do you, as a writer need these, or do you, like in that “New Yorker” cartoon that ended up on holiday cards recently that depicted three trash cans, one for old bottles, second for old newspapers and the third for new year’s resolutions have to do the same?
No good answers there. If your writing is content oriented, if you are one of those ghostwriters, where you need to make a balance between being a writer and being a ghost, I guess tight planning is of the essence and there are certain goals you need to achieve, and it all depends on your writing.
But what about if you need to, or essentially rely on your impulses, the fancy of your imagination, the ideas you are not even aware will come up to your mind. Maybe it has something to do with the way Death Cab For Cutie put it in their “New Year”:
“So this is the new year
And I have no resolutions
It’s self-assigned penance
For problems with easy solutions.”
One thing is for sure, it’s a situation where ‘rule of the thumb’ rules. Just don’t let anybody make any resolutions for you. Particularly when your writing is in question.
So you pitched your latest masterpiece of a novel to countless editors, even those you never heard of, and there’s no money available to publish it on your own. Actually, there’s practically no money available whatsoever.
The family’s got to eat, and writing is the only thing you can do…
You scramble around, through the familiar ground, nobody needs or wants a daily life story, cosy crime fiction or your detailed commentary on the current political situation. All you got is an offer to write poetry with a science fiction theme, a copy for new toiletry products or even ‘worse’, the possibility to hang all day on Quora and answer specific questions.
In such a situation, quite a few writers would rather resort to good friends or not so friendly banks and wait, wait, wait…
Actually, that is a syndrome, a syndrome of fearing anything that’s new, something that is personal uncharted territory. Back in the Seventies, Blue Oyster Cult, one of the better, intellectually charged heavy metal bands, had quite a hit with their song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”.
So if you shouldn’t fear the reaper, why fear new uncharted writing ground? Incidentally, Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer, the founders of the band started out as rock critics. The switched their writing to song lyrics, and obviously didn’t look back…
The key lies in the fact whether your writing is ‘readable’ and whether you have confidence in yourself and those words you commit to paper or your word processor. If you are aware of the fact that every writing, including the most outrageous fiction, requires detailed research (whether you have an attack of stream of consciousness and particularly if you don’t), and you have already done it for your work within a familiar writing territory, that you have the initial equipment to try something unfamiliar. Have in mind that if you are able to comprehend the unknown, you are able to transform it into words, you are certainly able to write about something you never wrote about before.
Oh, by the way, those bills that are piling up don’t ask any other questions than to be paid.
Every writer has a stance about writing humor, taking a humorous stance, injecting humor in ‘serious’ writing, the whole shebang. The differences start with the definition of humor itself, what it constitutes, what it are the limits and so on.
Many writers consider humor as ‘second grade’, or as something that will trivialize the words they have committed to paper (word processor). Hopefully, the number of ‘keep it serious’ thinkers is not that large. Maybe they’re not aware of a saying that exists in almost any language and roughly translates into “a truth lies behind every joke”.
Around this time exactly fifty years ago, while The Bee Gees were just getting out of their teens back in Australia, still dabbling in pop psychedelia, they came up with “I Started A Joke”, one of their early hits.
It included the following lines:
“I looked at the skies, running my hands over my eyes
And I fell out of bed, hurting my head from things that I’d said
’Til I finally died, which started the whole world living
Oh, if I’d only seen that the joke was on me.”
They were young, but they got it. You cannot avoid humor, and yes, behind every joke there is at least a grain of truth. But then, I guess, some writers are even unconsciously afraid that things can turn out like in The Bee Gees song, and that the joke could be on them. Or that it might reveal too much about the writer herself/himself. Or that they simply aren’t funny.
Of course, you cannot inject humor in your writing if it doesn’t warrant it or just because you think it needs to be there. It usually crops up by itself, naturally. But shying away from humor just because of a general notion that it is trivial, is actually THE thing that can degrade anybody’s writing. Everybody is funny in some way or other and it should reflect in their writing.
What triggers you to start writing? For a start, forget guns and their triggers. Think what is that thought, emotion situation or any element of life that triggers you to write. What are those new sensations and experiences, old or fresh memories that represent that moment when the ice clicks and you pick up your pen or start typing?
Of course, differing to that trigger, or starting point, there has to exist a writing drive, that general idea, sense, that you have to commit your thoughts to words saved on paper or somewhere on one of your electronic devices.
Somehow, it seems that memories and the way we interpret them in most cases represent that starting point. In “Change Is Gonna Come”, Sam Cooke wrote and sang that he was “born by the river” and used that thought to come up with one of the best songs about racial inequality. For Otis Redding, that same song triggered not only thought and emotions but also the ability to come with one of the best interpretations of somebody else’s song ever, Sam Cooke’s notes and words became his own.
Interpreting somebody else’s words is yet another trigger, as anything that comes up in your mind has the potential to be turned into an idea and words. The words come up at the moment as I’m watching the patisserie across the street and a horse statuette in its window. From here, it looks like it is a patisserie product itself. As you get closer, you see that it is actually made of ribbed velvet fabric.
Between a white chocolate and ribbed velvet horse, there are at least five stories that could evolve — from the reasons the horse is in that window in the first place, to what it takes to make it to who did so and why. And if that is not the trigger, how about that gun and its trigger and the infinite number of stories that could evolve from those two words.
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