i’ve been working on a longer piece for a while now & i thought it might be interesting to talk about what it feels like doing that after writing so much, but so much, very, very short prose; some don’t even call it prose but prose poems (there’s a good discussion on the distinction over at fictionaut right now).
one thing i want to say is that i find it difficult to keep writing well & just withdraw in one’s own world and head like a mathematician. a mathematician has got a great advantage: he carries the end-all of his art in his head in the form of axioms, proofs, lemmata … (the taxonomy of mathematical structures is an art form in itself not unlike musical structures). the writer doesn’t. his world looks like “his” but it isn’t. the larger part of “his” world belongs to others. his world is in their world and in order to keep writing about anything interesting to anyone else, he must go into other people’s world.
if the writer goes there & just brings back what he saw, heard, thought, people will call him a realistic writer. most writers are, or aspire, to be realistic writers, it seems to me. some, like carver, look like realistic writers on the surface, but they’re not really realistic writers (which makes them more interesting, to me). if the writer goes there, into the world, and turns it into something the readers’ conscious mind cannot recognize but only their unconscious mind, they might call him a ‘fantastic’ or ‘absurdist’ writer. kafka and borges are such writers. if people recognize ideas but there’s nothing much else to hold on to, like characters or plot, they call him a ‘philosophical’ writer. kierkegaard and nietzsche are examples of such writers.
if nobody and no part of anybody, conscious or unconscious, really understands the writer, he might be not from this world either because he actually is an alien (you know who i mean) or because he writes about a world not in this world because it doesn’t exist (yet). this is the writer considered mad or prophetic – prophetic, however, like kassandra, whose divine gift came with the dreadful condition that nobody would believe her prophesies. pynchon and vonnegut belong here.
all this stuff about different writers really is just a corollary to saying, again, that it is difficult to write well and a lot while withdrawing into one’s own head or one’s computer. there’s this pressure to remove yourself from anything that is real because real things draw you in on their own account & seem to compete with the reality of the story inside your head. (i’m saying ‘you’ here where i should say ‘i’, which is not just laziness but an exercise in POV. really.)
do you know what i’m talking about?
the other day, i looked at my wife, we were sitting in the car, i was driving, and i said to her: you know, you’re not saying anything and you haven’t said anything since a while, what is going on. & she said: look at the road! & you’re not saying anything either. it turned out that she’d been waiting for me and i had been waiting for her, which could only happen because i’d been writing for so long that i had completely withdrawn into my own world. we later agreed that it felt as if a giant ball of shit was laying between us that we couldn’t get past. at the same time my writing went to shit, too.
all this was disturbing to me because i had nursed substantial fantasies that the writing of a long piece would be a blissful experience overall. not without pain, but i had only expected the pain of creation & not the pain of losing my world and having to find my way back into it to be able to continue at all with any joy.
which i have done now. do you want to know my secret? how i did it? i’m not going to tell all because this is a public space, mate, but here are a few things that i did to get myself grounded again in reality so that i’d be happier where i was and was able to continue to write my long piece:
- i installed a septic tank on our premises, looked some actual shit in the eye and got my hands dirty.
- i finally caught up with my tax returns & submitted overdue insurance receipts.
- i went and bought something that i really had wanted for a long time that made me look great in the shallowest possible way.
- i played several games of chinese checkers with my daughter & lost.
- i spent a day teaching people things that had nothing whatsoever to do with writing or literature or the building of worlds & there was laughing.
- i wrote a dada poem to please nobody but myself.
- i slept more one day than i thought i should.
and so on. you get the drift. i call it ‘the humbling‘. it is as necessary to creating longer works of fiction as … love is to living a life. over out & back to my desk & to listening to jane and serge & zaz.
[the author of this diatribe is working on a novella. if you read this and liked it, or if you read this and didn’t like it, no matter what, even if all you do is exist and have couple of unemployed fingers, he’d like for you to keep these fingers crossed for him in your world which he’ll undoubtedly visit at some point as you’ve visited his just now.]