4 hours ago
Monday, July 23, 2012
The library, I once wrote somewhere else, was the place where my mother took me for swimming lessons and I learned to drown.
That's obviously sort of a double-edged and bleak metaphor, but the library really was the one place where I could disappear, and where the little town in which I lived and all the things I was afraid of while growing up would disappear as well. They say that drowning is one of the more peaceful ways to die. You just sort of sink into the unknown and lose yourself.
There was also, though, in those treks to the library, and in the countless solitary hours I spent reading, a sense of voyaging on great seas alone in a little boat that was slowly taking on water, as land --and reality-- gradually receded.
I came to love that feeling, and I still love that feeling. At a very early age I discovered that I could also acquire that feeling by writing, by trying to create the sort of enduring documents that provided those first escapes.
I've been at it a long time now. I write every day, and have written every single day without exception for at least twenty years. My goal every night is 1000 words, and though that sometimes proves impossible I have held myself to a strict 400-word minimum. Many nights I will write several thousand words. I have filled up hundreds of uniform, lined, black journals.
There are novels in those black books, long novels and short novels, as well as hundreds and hundreds of short stories, from very long short stories to very, very short stories.
Because books are so sacred to me, it has always been my intention, and my dream, to write (and publish) books. And to try to publish some of those stories in magazines and journals. Yet for the last twenty years --and in truth it has probably been longer-- I have not submitted a single story or novel for publication. Nor have I transcribed most of the longer pieces from the black books (I write longhand, with a pen, the only way I've discovered that allows me to be as portable as I need to be to keep the streak of days alive no matter where I am or what's going on).
I dislike computers. I dislike --for the most part-- the internet. I dislike the busywork and the essential idea of submission, as well as the bureaucracy and economics of the publishing industry. I am also lazy and insecure.
Blogging (a word I despise) is not without perils, but it is nonetheless relatively easy. I have now been blogging in one place or another for more than ten years, this after having been dragooned into the practice by a former employer. I obviously don't get paid to blog, and I've never figured out how to get anyone to "visit" my blog or read the words I write. Still, I continue to do it, and some people do come here, but with every passing month (every passing day, actually) I think of all those words that have piled up in my black books, and excavating them has begun to feel like a massive archaeological project that I am rapidly running out of time and energy to undertake.
The things I post here, and the things I've posted on my old blogs, have all been smaller stories or sketches that I've just yanked right out of the black books. I've figured out that no one sitting at a computer is going to sit through a 10,000-word story, let alone a novel. I've also figured out that virtually no one is going to take very seriously anything written on a blog.
As a result I long ago stopped thinking of myself as --or pretending to be-- a "real writer." Real writers write books, give readings, hobnob with other real writers and readers. Real writers, I've always read and been told, endlessly revise and rewrite. There are stories of writers and poets rewriting some piece of work fifty, or even 100 times. I have a few problems with that notion.
It's Calvinist, and masochistic. And it's also both self-important and depressing. I don't claim to be a great writer, and have no problem monkeying with something --or letting someone else monkey with something-- to try to make it better. As I said at the beginning, I like to write. I enjoy it, but that doesn't mean I don't work at it. That said, by the time I finish something I've usually already started something else that I'm interested in or excited about. And, apologies to those who work so fucking hard to get a story, novel, or poem right, but if, say, a carpenter has to build and tear down a house fifty times before it is habitable don't you think it would be reasonable for him to conclude that maybe he's chosen the wrong profession? For the last twenty years --or at least since I stopped publishing what I knew was sub-par fiction--I've been determined to write until I felt I could achieve the same confidence and precision necessary for a heart surgeon, or even a barber, the occupations I've come to think of as the one-shot, best-shot trades.
I obviously haven't gotten there yet, but I spent many years as an editor, and still do occasional editing jobs. It's been my experience that there is nothing --nothing-- that I've ever read that I couldn't rewrite or restructure a hundred different ways. Yes, there are disasters; there are people who just can't write or who don't understand the basic architecture of a story. There are, I believe, objective criteria for judging good writing, but there's also a threshold where subjectivity takes over. Anyone who has worked in a publishing enterprise that incorporates "top editing" procedures --this involves a story being passed up and then back down through a chain of editors-- knows how ridiculous things can get. I've worked on stories that have been kicked around an office to the point that editors are editing the changes other editors have made. It becomes like a game of telephone.
I read every day, and there is not one page of any book I've ever read (including books I adore) on which, were I allowed, I wouldn't instinctively rewrite a sentence or a paragraph. I'm constantly quibbling with word choices or dialogue or some other niggling detail. It's just the nature of writing and reading, and also one of the pleasures. I like to read great writers and think about what they're up to and the decisions they make.
This, I realize, is a digressive ramble, but I'm trying to get at something, or to arrive somewhere. I'm grateful to every single person who's ever stumbled in here and read my words, but I'm also increasingly frustrated with this medium, and with cyberspace in general. My goal has always been to write books that might end up in libraries, even if only as shelf furniture.
And right now I'm trying to figure out a way to finally accomplish that goal, because --ridiculous as this may sound-- I've become convinced that my life depends on it.