Monday, September 6, 2010

I'm probably just crazy

Despite my rather harsh indictment of Stephen King's "On Writing" the other day, I have to admit that there's one thing he said that got me thinking: "Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around."

King follows this theme up through the whole book, and it made me think about the way I go about writing. I started writing as a response to the fact that I was graduating university and there existed, to my knowledge, no Philosophy Factory that would bear me fruitful employment. But writing is something I've come to enjoy much more intimately than those egotistical-economical beginnings suggest, having nearly entirely replaced my previous artistic penchant towards the musically infernal.

King is adamant that he's never written for money or fame; only because he enjoys it. This instilled in my breast a certain moral revulsion towards myself. Over the past few months, I've become a writing stress-case; my attitude being summarized by the sentiment, "When's the big break coming, huh?" I think I've lost, not all of, but at least some of my potential by deliberately focusing on stories that I perceive to possess material value, either by way of being salable, or being of such-and-such a character that it provides me with a good practice field--and, thusly, makes my work as a whole more salable down the line.

In short, what King made me realize was that this way of writing--when everything's about the Benjamins, or, in Canadianese, the lake birds--is a dumb way to write. In the name of having more fun, I've kicked some projects back to my "TO DO" folder and started working on a story that's been brewing for a long time. It has characters I like, a setting I like, and a horde of silly encounters and conflicts. When viewed objectively, it's probably awful: it's unabashed man-lit, it abuses tropes and conventions like nobody's business, and it utilizes my poor sense of humour unendingly. But it's been a lot more fun to write for fun than with the ephemeral dream of literary success occupying my mind day in and out.

I think I'm a manic-depressive writer: either I'm writing a lot, or none at all. This used to bear onto my mood as a correlate: if I was a manic writer, I was equally a manic person; and the opposite, of course, held true also. But thanks to that little bit of King's advice--which, crushing the Ben-of-yesterday as it did, I was initially revulsed by--"manic" and "depressive" are now terms I need only apply directly to my writing production, and not how I feel about what I've produced.



  1. Steven King might still write if he wasn't rich or famous. But I'm not so sure that he wouldn't be a little bit annoyed about it, or that he wouldn't alter his writing to try to chase that success. Plenty of famous writers have gotten off on being honored or gotten bitter about not being honored.

    For myself, if I actually did not care about success -- about assuming the social role of "writer" -- then I would probably write altogether differently. I would be one of those people who died with my mattress lined by a sixteen thousand page magnum opus on the linkages between the disappearance of the Easter Island statue-builders, the angles of the Nazca Lines, and the Trilateral Commission. And I wouldn't even have the satisfaction of eventually being mentioned in a Thomas Pynchon novel...because he'd be dead...since I'm much younger than him...unless I died, like, yesterday...

  2. Good reflection, Ben, and I think that's definitely a huge point of the book. King explains often that while there was a time when he wrote for the sake of "paying the bills," such as before he landed a job as an English teacher, he's really always written whenever he was able. It's just an urge, really, that gets satisfied only by writing.

    When he lay shattered, doped up on pain pills, and feeling thankful to still be alive, he felt compelled to write the mammoth SF Dreamcatcher, even though he couldn't even walk.

    It's definitely better to write when you want, or _need_ to, than when you're forcing yourself to do so because you want to earn a few bucks.

  3. Writing, for me, was also a replacement for a failed attempt at rocking the world with music.

    I enjoyed watching that video of your band, so maybe you can get a good laugh out of my band:

    I, too, am a wielder of the axe.

  4. Haha, nice! Sweet solo, Alex. Amazing tone...

    Thanks for all the words, writerly friends. Rahul, your magnum opus sounds like nothing less than a fantastic thriller. You ought to compose it... I'm sure it would be a runaway hit. Just don't die producing it or forget your SF roots, because the world for now needs more futuro-Napoleonic ganglia.


  5. Yeah, I think sometimes it's nice to take a break from "serious" writing projects and just dibble-dabble with something completely fun and random.
    And to be honest, I think that sometimes these stories, where we're breaking all the "rules" of writing, sometimes ends up being out best stuff.
    And then gets published along with all those other books that break all the rules? We can only hope, right? =P

  6. I agree wholeheartedly but disagree wholemindedly. Classic disconnect, of course.

    But hey, we live in the Internet Age. I can see lots of ways to sell the writing I happen to enjoy writing, even when that writing might not make it to traditional publishing.

    As for music: It wasn't THAT bad. For one thing, all your faces are obscured by the darkness? (Ooh, harshness from the guy who can't even play the piano)

    I mean, I can make an eBook in 2s in Word. Give me some more time and I can typeset it up all pretty. And I can hire an artist to make the cover art I want, dammit.

  7. I don't think what I'm writing at the moment is necessarily commercially non-viable; but that its potential for success or otherwise was not a factor in my decision to, or how to, write it, is the point I was trying to make.