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Booze, Cigs And Alphabets

St. Hunter of the Hallucination
There are a great many folks in my circles who call themselves writers, but who don't/won't/can't write.  They affect an aura of "the writer," but when pressed, cannot point to any particular body of work.  However, they are more than willing to launch pot shots at those who do produce.  I call this the "coach" effect.

Don't know if you've ever heard the ditty, but it goes like this: Those who can, do.  Those who can't, teach.  And those who can't teach, coach.  I happen to think teaching is an honorable profession, but the point is taken.

In my world, we call directors 'frustrated actors.'  People with no talent at all, or who can't succeed in the industry, we refer to as 'critics.'  Most professions have similar references - failed lawyers are clerks, failed doctors are nurses, etc.

Failed writers, though, don't have many options.  It is a very lonely and isolated profession.  There are no assistants or clerks, there is only one person sitting at a table banging out strings of words that he or she hopes someone else will read.  In a world where reading is increasingly rare, the task becomes even more odious, as the positive feedback decreases exponentially.  If, however, you know someone who claims to be a writer, yet has a busy social life, they are lying.

Writing, with rare exceptions, requires vast amounts of solitude and concentration.  For me, it further includes copious amounts of alcohol, cheese and nicotine.  I need something to keep me at the desk, after all.

The rare exceptions include things like technical and corporate writing.  In these cases, there are committees of non-writers sitting around discussing "voicing" and broad topics with little connection to actual writing.  In the end, though, it is still one person sitting at the computer banging out strings of words and getting lots of negative feedback, because hey, everyone's a critic and like bellybuttons, everyone's got an opinion - they just don't want to write them is all.

Writing is a compulsion that comes with certain personality quirks.  A writer has to enjoy solitude.  I spend probably eight to ten hours a day writing, of which this blog is about one and a half.  It requires a lot of discipline to force myself to sit and write.  My natural inclination is to find anything - trimming my nails, scraping mold off the wall - to distract me from actually banging out strings of words.  Most of the real writers I know feel the same way.  As one person put it, writing is the closest a man will come to giving birth.

The only thing worse than writing is editing, which is why good editors are like gold in this business.

In writing, there are basically two forms - personal and work for hire.  Personal, like this blog, is something I do both as a form of discipline and practice, and for entertainment.  A work for hire is generally a thankless effort, other than the pittance that trickles into the bank account.  Most of what I do for hire little resembles the final published product.  I can spot crumbs of my original work, but for the most part, it has been tweaked and twaddled to death by the time it hits publication.  Considering the thought and research that goes into a work for hire, it rarely seems worth the effort in the end.

I mean, no one commissions a painting, then touches it up before hanging it on the wall, right?  So why do people feel obliged to alter someone's words?  Maybe it's just too easy.  No bushes to clean afterward.

And speaking of painters, at least they occassionally work with naked models. I have tried for years to convince my wife that a naked model would greatly improve my work - as yet to no avail.  If you notice a sudden leap in the quality of my work, though, you'll know what happened...

To say writing is a compulsion is a literal description.  I began writing in grade school.  I won several local, state and national contests.  I've written scripts for various projects that have won awards.  I've seen my work published in all sorts of ways.  But good, bad or indifferent, I cannot stop writing even if I wanted to.  I have to write.  It is the way I express myself.  My letters home run 15-20 pages.  I can't write an email without a minimum of six or seven paragraphs.  When I read, I think about how I could have done better, or how I'd like to do something that well.  I can't read an article or book for pleasure - I am always analyzing style, technique and turn of phrase.

It's an obscession.

One trademark of a real writer is the idea bin.  All writers have one, though the form may differ.  I carry a pen and a notebook everywhere I go.  When I have an idea or see something I like, I write it down and toss it in the idea bin.  I have stacks and stacks of notes: favorite metaphors, witty turns of phrase, thoughts to expand, thoughts that will never get expanded.  It comes from high school, when I would take my notebook to the mall or other public place and just observe people.  I still do that.  I make notes about interesting characters and personalities that would be fun in a novel.

Another characteristic of real writers is the work in progress folder.  I currently have six novels and a dozen scripts in progress.  When I finish this article (for publication sometime during the coming week), I will then turn to one of the other projects for which I have some burning ideas to set down.  In the process of doing that, I may have a great idea for one of the other projects, and pop that one open, as well.  By the end of the day, I have at least four different files open and in progress.

There are two things a writer fears most: the beginning and the end.  The middle is easy.  Just keep banging out strings.  But how to capture the reader's imagination at the open?  That crucial first paragraph sets the tone and hooks the reader.  There are millions of bad openings, but only a handful of great ones.  "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  "Call me Ismael."  "The magician’s underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami."

Just as soul-bending and painful is how to end the damn thing.

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