Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sifting For Diamonds In A Mountain Of Ass.

Do you hate it when writers write about writing? If so, um, stop reading.

The Very Hot Jews are also Very Hot Writers For Hire, so sometimes we write about stuff that's more writery than Jewy. But our Hebeness, as you know, permeates all aspects of our lives; so we think it counts sufficiently to run posts about the creative process. Call it Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Jew. Or, Portrait of the Jew As A Young Writer. Or, point out that we're not very young, which: shut up.

Actual, bona fide young writers email me (me meaning Sera; going solo on this post riiiiiight... now) a lot. Sometimes, what they ask me boils down to "how do I become a better writer?" Yes, good writing is subjective, blah blah; let's cut the crap, because we all know what these youngsters are aiming at. And we all want to know how to do it. Is there a certain class to take? Book to amazon? Pill to chop up and mainline, because we will if it makes the swamp of donkey dung we just composed miraculously transform itself into sparkly genius.

Despite my general joie de vivre, while working I am haunted by this nagging feeling I call The Wrongness. As in, something is very wrong with this thing I just wrote. I dunno what. But I know it could suck a lot less than it does.

I don't know the secret answer to shaking that ickity feeling. I don't know how you force your creative mind to take it to the next level already. Sorry. If someone reading this knows the answer, email it to me. Please. Be your best friend.

In the absence of solutions, I've developed strategies. Most, like the Eating More Peanut Butter strategy, have failed miserably. The only thing I've done that helps significantly is Write More. It ups the statistical odds of writing something unsucky.

I know, so unglamorous. So unrelated to playing with your dog or kissing in the park or watching movies or eating more peanut butter.

Also, who wants to write more, raise your hand? Anyone? Bueller? Thought not. We all know the fun part isn't Writing, it's Having Written. So what I do is trick myself into writing as much as possible as quickly as possible, with the understanding that most of it is going to suck ginormous monkey balls. I then sift through the mountain of ass without judging myself for it. Not that I'm a non-judgmental person. Nuh uh. It's just that even I can't really get it up to feel bad that something I typed up in 5 minutes while surfing Dlisted isn't gonna win me the Nobel Prize. And I get that 10% of the shit will turn out to be gold. Or at least pyrite. At any rate, good enough to use in some capacity.

I've got lots of systems for the prolific generation of hellaciously overwritten crapola. Allow me to share one such system here. Let's begin with a long, digressive story, because you would totally rather read it than, like, write.

Breakfast At Denny's.

When I was in high school, my social life was made possible by the architecture of my parents’ house. Specifically, the location of my bedroom. Our two-story home was built into the side of a hill, the better to enjoy our expansive view of grey smog behind which, we were repeatedly assured by our real estate agent, lay the gorgeous San Bernardino mountains. My bedroom? Lower level, with a sliding door to the backyard. Wasn’t it nice of my parents to see to it that I never had to actually crawl out a window to sneak out at night?

I encouraged as early a curfew as possible. Because the sooner we all “went to bed”, the sooner I could walk right back out of the house again.

That was the easy part. Once I’d slipped away, down the street to the Jehovah’s Witness church parking lot where my friends were waiting, we faced our true obstacle: There was absofuckinglutely nothing to do in Redlands.

More often than not, we ended up at Denny’s, nursing stale coffee and ingesting toxic quantities of mozzarella sticks. None of us had enough money for a more ambitious meal. But the coffee refills were free. We had a system, which I will describe to you with the disclaimer that my adult self is embarrassed by our treatment of the harried Denny’s waitstaff.

Our system was to ball up a bunch of paper napkins to form a little “ghost." We’d draw a mean ghost face on it. And when our cups ran dry, we’d perch the Coffee Ghost atop the napkin dispenser. If it took more than a minute or two for the waitress to spot us, we’d toss the Coffee Ghost up and down, making loud “woooooo-woooo” ghost noises. The waitress had long ago gathered the intel that we weren’t exactly gonna leave the best tip in history, and tossing the Coffee Ghost invited some of the most subtle yet pointed sarcasm I’ve ever heard from a member of the service provider industry. And I’ve shopped at Fred Segal. After between-the-lines-ing that she fully expected us to die horror-movie drug overdose deaths which on a karmic level we completely deserved, she’d fill 'er up and quickly get back to her preferred occupation, shunning us.

We had time to kill and caffeine to burn off. So, somebody invented “Breakfast.” I have no idea how it got that name. Here is how to do Breakfast. One of you pulls out your journal. (You better believe we all had journals with us at all times.) Someone writes the first word. Say, “I.” The other chap writes the next: “never”. Back and forth, lightning-quick. Sentences, stanzas, strange stories composed word by word. The finished page, checkered in alternating handwriting, yielded surreal, vaguely English-As-A-Second-Language poetry: I never only waited forever when cars parked on heads of state past river rocks of milk carton trash at sunset on Mars.

We found this wildly entertaining. And we marvelled at the occasional profundity discovered by just letting go with no thought of making it "good." Amid the knots of quasi-gibberish were genuine diamond lines. Plus, it was fun to show poetry who's boss.

Aaaaaallll of this to say, I haven’t changed a bit. Well, I’m almost twice as old. And I don’t dress quite so adventurously. But my social life still involves Breakfast in many forms. Like this blog thing Sime and I amuse ourselves with. And I still treasure that which takes some of the teeth out of the big bad monster, writing. Like my current fave—The 30 Day Experiment.

The 30-Day Experiment.

The 30 Day Experiment has generated some of the best stuff I ever done wrote. I dig the hell out of it, and I wanted to share. Invite the emo writer types among you to try it. (I know you’re out there. Put down the Damien Rice CD and listen up.)

The experiment was born when a friend and I were chatting about how “generating inventory,” i.e. writing actual viable stuff, is an erratic and slow process and totally blows. We decided to shortcut the mad search for the spark by simply providing it for one another. That way, we could get a taller pile of written guano in a shorter amount of time. No more standing at the corner of Writer's Block and I'd Rather Be Drinking, waiting for the Inspiration Bus that never comes.

Each day, one of us would write a poem or short piece of prose and email it to the other, who would read it and then immediately write one of their own. None of that stopping to think business. Just fingers and computer keyboard. Sometimes the pieces dialogued, sometimes not. But it worked. We wrote a thingy a day for 30 days. It was like going to the writer-brain gym every morning. And what a marvelous bucket brimming with vomitously bad writing I accrued. Priceless. And I mean that unironically.

I just started a new 30 Day Experiment with this Hot Latina Novelist I have a writer-crush on. Sime's gonna start his own. We think you should maybe start one too. Why the fuck not? At the end of it you’ll have a big-ass pile of... something.... that wasn't there before. Which totally beats having no pile at all. Challenging as getting a piece of writing from heinous to decent may be, it doesn't get easier by doing it less. You don't get to skip the heinousness by staring at a blank screen. To keep with the fitness metaphor: to my knowledge, going to the gym never stops being annoying. But it's less of a drag when you're in shape.

Plus, if you do this consistently for 30 days, somewhere in your hillock of feces you will find rough bits here and there which, once cleaned up, will reveal themselves to be startlingly valuable and genuinely good.

Let us know how it goes. We'll be here. Typing.


Alana said...

Hi Sera,

Nice to know you've also experienced the Writer Crush. I have about five-or-six of them going, including one on you.

The other day I mused how I was envious of your talent because you never write anything that sucks ass or blows donkey dick. Never.

Of course I've never seen any of your first drafts.

Granted, your published stuff rocks.

I've also noticed your episodes of Supernatural are better than say, that other guys. My son has also noticed. We only BUY episodes you wrote. The other day my son said, "Did the Sera G person write this one? No? Just skip it."

OK, I might have told him your episodes were better.

Does the effing CW know they're lucky to have you?

People have asked me if I write shit. That's a dumb question, I mean when someone asks me that. Yeah, I write shit, and some of it has been published. My first drafts are always shit, as are my second and third. Sometimes drafts never make it out of the shit pile.

Someone once told me you can't make a fair writer good, but you can make a good writer better. Life helps, like age and experience, and being mean to Dennys waitstaff too.

I used to teach writing to college students, and one day this guy said to me, "I can't write." I told him to write swear words across the page. He looked at me like I was demented. I said, "Go on." And he started writing swear words and ended up with a story.

Daniel said...

30 days - as morgan spurlock has shown us - is long enough to fix or ruin almost anything. my experiment started in mid-november, 1999, when I stood in line at the post office boring my horizon gaze into a millenium countdown clock, which told me that I had a mere 50 days left before Y2K and the cataclysm that would assuredly accompany the end of 1999. I decided then and there to write for each of those days, till I had fifty essays. Fiction, politics, reminiscence, porn... I just wanted to hit my 50. After a couple weeks of sporadic success in meeting my interim goals, I scaled back from "50 essays" to "25 essays that didn't totally suck." In retrospect, most of those sucked anyway, but it got me writing, and even apart from the handful of work that I liked then and still do, there was plenty of drek that was still a workable nucleus for something else, or that painted a scene that wound up in another piece later, or that had a turn of phrase I found personally satisfying. Okay, it's not breakfast, or exquisite corpse, or even boggle. But I saw that it was good.

the only downside was, no sounding board for feedback and ideas and crushing. but even in that deprived condition, I got a lot out of it and still find it easier now to write when writing is what it's time to do. in conclusion, I heartily endorse this product or service. mahalo for your kokua.

Blade Lakem said...

Ah yes, I remember Breakfast and those journals.

I realized a while back that we'd developed an analog version of blogging. I kept those things for years.

Anyway, sometimes I think that Redlands being an emotional wasteland was a good thing. If there were 'things to do', would we have filled up journals and traded them around like we did?

"There should be a science of discontent. People need hard times and oppression to develop psychic muscles."