Friday, May 11, 2012

The Joy of Writing Badly (or Let's Hope I Remember that I have a blog so I can leave you more treasures like these):

I am a bad writer.

I freely admit this. See? Right there. I split the subject with an unnecessary adverb to modify the verb that really didn’t require modification. And there again, I used “really”. Editors and good writers hate that word. Really. They do.

Here’s the problem. I love writing. And sometimes, people tell me I’m good at it. They like what I write. Then again, there are people out there who watch reality television thinking it’s the best thing ever.

Now I know I’ll never be a highbrow writer. I could never be Yeats. I could never be Joyce. But nobody else could be Yeats or Joyce, either, even and especially because there are no original ideas left.

But I enjoy writing. I have no idea what to write about. That’s not true. My favourite form of writing is fan fiction. Why? Because I don’t have to create a universe – it’s established, and I just plunk my characters in the middle of it and go. It’s bad writing and it’s lazy writing but boy is it fun. It’s about as much fun as a bag of cheesies. That’s cheesy poofs for you Americans who may happen upon this piece in your travels.

So why am I writing about being a bad writer? Is it just more self-deprecating and artistic self-loathing? Probably. But I got this genius idea one day while I was writing my latest piece of fan fiction.

Now it’s common knowledge that fan fiction is the hallmark of bad writing. People who have never before ever had the urge to sign their name are suddenly inspired (usually by a very hot, sexy, luscious character) (note to self: Alexander Skarsgard is an actor. Eric Northman is a fictional character.) to sit in front of their computers (or, back in the days when I started, their typewriters or, gasp, with a paper and pen!) and churn out a tale of what would happen when Hot Sexy Character came upon Character Who Looks Nothing Like Me in the middle of a Place Where I Would Never Find Myself. It’s the formula for canned sitcoms and for pretty well every piece of 30 minute television where the program synopsis ends with “hilarity ensues”. Sometimes, if you’re vicious, psychotic, or just have raging hormones, you kill off the Boyfriend/Girlfriend/Other Worldly Character Friend of the Hot Sexy Character and insert CWLNLM as a consolatory replacement, so hilarity would not ensue but still end with a happily ever after scenario.

I am sure right now there are a bunch of fanfic writers (or just ‘fic’ as it’s called now. Whatever, kids.) who are screaming at this page, or have closed the netbook or laptop or flung the tablet out the window at the preposterousness of my accusations. But think about it. It’s true. That’s where it all starts. Just look at that prime example of copyright infringement, 50 Shades of Grey. Badly written, but a best seller. Why? Because it fits quite nicely into the niche I’ve just described. And people love all things formulaic. (Ask any Canadian how to make Kraft Dinner. They will tell you the exact instructions from the box, with their own "modification" which really isn't that much of a modification (size of pot, margarine vs butter, etc.) because it still follows the same order as it shows on the box. If you come across someone who deviates from the instructions on the box radically (like they boil the cheese with the water - WHAT?!?), they immediately lose their citizenship and are stoned with large curling rocks and hockey pucks.)

So where was I? Oh yes, another hallmark of bad writing – not sticking to the point. Mind you, if you’ve read Joyce, you probably thought there was no point to his inner monologue ramblings either, until some teacher pointed out what you were supposed to think. And maybe you still didn't get it. I’m sure Joyce himself didn’t even realize what the teacher pointed out to you. But that’s for a conversation about analysis. And where did Joyce end up but in the ground where we all eventually find ourselves. What did I get out of Joyce? That I should probably drink more when I write. I also found two of the best books I've ever read and reread in my life. So much so that I read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to my son while he was in utero, and when he was a baby. I'm sure he got more out of it than what my English lit professor was telling me to find in Joyce's words...Sorry, there we go. Another example of not sticking to the point.

Where was I again? Writing this horrible piece of fan fiction. Something about vampires and sex. That’s where I’ll leave it for now because honestly I am too chicken shit to post it. It may be just as bad as every other piece of fan fiction out there. It may be a good piece that people want to read. Or just a piece that people want to slag off regardless of the quality of the writing. The internet is wonderful for that, isn’t it? Some delicate ego who has no confidence in anything decides to peep out into the world and take some pages from their secret diary file locked with about five passwords and anonymously post a story from it about how they became best friends with a kid in a wizard school, and regardless of whether or not the piece shows promise, there are jerks out there who decide it is their internet-bequeathed duty to kill the confidence of that person by telling them “this is a peice (sic) of shit” or “that would never happen” or worse. So their ego goes back into a little hidey-hole and they become an administration clerk…

But enough about me. After all, if you’re still here, you’re wondering why I’m writing so badly. So yeah, (by the way, don’t speak directly to your audience unless you describe yourself as a cute perky English lass. That was so last century two decades ago. And it’s bad writing.) I wrote this piece, too scared to post it because someone might actually like it. Worse – someone may actually read it.

Sometimes fanfic writers actually end up something good, worthy, and inspirational. Sometimes they can even write well. But I’m not here to blather on about good writers. If you want to read a blog about good writers, go to David Simon’s blog. He wrote The Wire. He’s a genius.  

Then I thought about why I was scared. I never used to be scared. I used to be pretty good at sharing my stuff until someone told me I couldn’t write. Sometimes, for those of us with delicate egos and painful shyness, it just takes one person to squish their thumb and index finger together to crush our dreams. This person simply didn’t like the way I wrote. Too wordy. Too rambly. Too many adverbs. Too many adjectives that mean nothing. Not sucking up enough to the teacher in Creative Writing class. That's not sour grapes - that one is actually true. Those of us who weren't all the way up his arse got barely passing grades. One of those people went on to be an award-winning journalist. 

The most recent occurrence that scared me away from the page was when I showed my piece of fan fic with the actor who inspired me, only to be told that he couldn’t authorize any further development of the piece. (In retrospect, I am thrilled that he read it, even though his note, which is in a very special place in my house, crushed my very fragile ego for about five years afterwards. I still feel pangs in the side of my skull when I think about it, even when I wrote that sentence. But, if I'm honest with myself, I am flattered and grateful that he took the time to read it.  And no, it wasn't Alexander Skarsgard, but he was Scandinavian, so tomato tomato, right? Just like Canadians and Americans and Kiwis and Aussies...)

And then a few things have happened over the past few weeks that I couldn’t ignore anymore. Namely, everyone around me (ok, not directly around me. These would be things that I see on television, hear on the radio, read in a magazine, etc.) started not caring about what they did. And when I say that, I don’t mean that they’re going around smacking kittens. (Don’t get me started.) (By the way, ‘by the way’ and parentheses should not be used if you’re trying to be a good writer. Just fyi. Oh, and don’t use abbreviations. Though I'm waiting for the very first novel written solely in text spelling. lol.)

I mean this – people, people I admire, people I may not have given two shits about before but suddenly I now do, these people do what they want to do simply because they want to do it. They don’t care if it’s good or bad, or, in the famous words of Craig Ferguson, ‘crap’. Why? Well they’re making more money than I am at it, but that’s irrelevant. Apparently, I make enough money to own a house and two cars, according to the bank. I can feed my family. My son goes to school in good clothes. So what else do I need?

I need to write.

It’s not about just wanting to do this. Like water, food, air – somehow if I try to forget about writing, if I try to ignore it and stop doing it, I become some type of zombie person, whose only purpose is to drive back and forth to very unfulfilling places. I stop caring about the life that’s been given to me and the people who I’ve been blessed to have accompanying me during this shuffle towards the mortal coil. 

But passion alone doesn’t make you good at something. Practice, hard work, patience, study. Those things make you good at things, and makes the decision for you as to whether or not you really want to continue with the chase and pursuit of that which calls to your nature to complete in order to feel fulfilled. 

So I like what I wrote. Sure, it needs editing. I wrote 200 pages in 3 weeks - of course it needs editing! I’m not good at editing, but I’m getting better. What makes sense and doesn’t make sense and what was just put in because I was half asleep at the time? Sometimes the lines are really blurred, especially late at night when you aren't using a high-res screen and your contacts are drying out.

But at the end of the day, will it be Ulysses? Oh no. I’ll never write Ulysses. Someone else did it first. Should I be concerned that I will never write Ulysses? If I do, then I might as well give up now. Because someone’s already done it. There will never be another one. Not even if Hollywood tries to make a movie out of it. All I can do is do my best and write something I like and hope that maybe one of you will like it too.

That’s what not giving a crap is all about. Doing what you want to do, because you want, no, have to do it. Feeling good about what you did. And here’s the key bit, not caring what other people think of it.

We’ve all seen those American Idol auditions where those people who just cannot sing go in front of the judges, and then they get all huffy about ‘well they don’t know what they’re talking about.’ I’m not talking about them. I’m not talking about people who think that just because they have an internet connection, they can post a movie that they shot on their phone about walking down the street and win an Oscar.

I’m talking about people who are driven to do something. It’s something they just cannot live without doing. Like breathing. Or drinking water (you need at least 64 oz of water a day to survive. Drink some now. Alcohol doesn’t count. Sorry).  And we may not be very good at it. And that’s okay. We just need to do it. We do it, and take a risk and throw it out there for someone to take a look at. And hopefully out of all of that there might be something that you like.

So that’s why I’m writing about being a bad writer. Do I like being a bad writer? Some days, sure. Just like some days I only want to eat mint chocolate ice cream bars and cheesies. Of course I would love to be a good writer. I would love it if every single word that I wrote on a page inherently linked to the word before it and the word after it creating a plethora of layers of symbolism that has been unseen in the world of literature as we know it. I would love to be able to write something that everyone in the world would want to read forever and ever every day. But in the end, all I really want to do is just write. And I hope that you enjoy reading what I write. And if you don’t, that’s fine too. You still have your breakfast in your teeth anyway. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm not a writer like you're a writer. I just blog to share my story. As you know, I'm a huge reader of fan fiction. I've read some that are wonderful and some that aren't.

    I say that if writing makes you happy , then write. So it for yourself and nobody else.