Friday, February 24, 2012

Why I Haven't Been Writing

I didn’t go to school for this shit. So when I started talking to people who knew what they were doing – literary agents and editors – it was the first time, seriously, anyone had ever told me about the concept of “voice,” as it pertains to writing. I heard, over and over again from agents, that I had a halfway decent voice, but I didn’t really understand what this meant because, again, I’d had no formal training, and because although I’ve read a ton in my life, the process of discerning the good from the bad was handicapped quite a bit by not having someone explain the basics when I was younger.

To me, “bad” writing meant poor grammar and spelling. “Good” writing was something I could give a shit about or that entertained me – like a Tom Clancy novel or something in Sports Illustrated. What the fuck did I know? And how the fuck would anyone expect me to know it? And no, I’m not talking about reading shit I don’t enjoy simply because it has literary merit. I still read garbage from time to time if it kills off a flight. I just know whether it’s garbage or not now.

Anyway, as I’ve gone on with this, I’ve learned a shit-ton about voice, and I’ve even practiced writing in multiple voices – tones other than the ones rolling around in my head that make me want to carry a chainsaw on the fucking subway. I’ve learned that I pretty much like my own writing voice, but that I don’t always have it at any given moment when I sit down to write – and that I haven’t really had it at all for a few years now. So yeah, I know I've sucked.

When the voice I want isn’t available, it’s for one of three reasons: I’m delusively writing in someone else’s voice, I’m too pissed off about something to sit and think coherently, or I’m on some totally bullshit psychological plane where I’m trying to get style points for using thirty words to make a point that’s worth three or less. For a few years now, this mediocrity’s been caused by a combination of these three things. I’m either trying to be something or someone I’m not, or I’m preoccupied with some other crock of shit that’s keeping me from thinking coherently about what I want to say.

That’s changed – legitimately, this time. I’ve had some negative shit happen to me lately that, instead of knocking me for a loop, has motivated me to go back to trying to get better at this. In other words, it’s good negative shit, having nothing to do with relationships, sick family members, or anything like that. It’s just bullshit at work that’s making me ask, for the first time since approximately 2006, what the fuck I’m doing with my life – and that’s a good thing, because the last time I started asking questions like that, I actually did something about it.

As opposed to back then, however, I’m now equipped to handle questions like that. I’m doing well. The people I give a shit about are doing well. I’ve climbed the ladder at work. I can’t even remember the last time I had a drink. I’m busting my ass at a competitive sport again (this one is fucking huge). I’m engaged with life again. This process took a while – longer than I expected it to – but I know I’m good at this point because I can sit down and write shit like this. It’s no literary masterpiece, but it’s me writing – not the jerkoff imitator, the pissed off lunatic, or the dildo who thinks he’s Faulkner. It’s a good start.