If you really want to hurt your parents and you don’t have nerve enough to be homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts.
This winter, I spent many pleasant evenings at the Coffee Cottage bookstore/coffeehouse in Newberg, Oregon while Carol was rehearsing and performing in It’s A Wonderful Life. One of those nights, I found an absolutely charming book by Ariel Gore, a wonderfully quirky young voice from my neck of the woods, Portland, Oregon, entitled How To Become A Famous Writer Before You’re Dead: Your Words In Print And Your Name In Lights [NY: Three Rivers Press, 2007]. It includes oodles of great down-to-earth tips on getting ahead as a writer along with interviews with more than a dozen authors about their process and their marketing-promotion-publishing adventures.
She’s a great admirer of Haruki Murakami (Kafka On The Shore), and when she was unable to land an interview with the living legend, she made one up. (Creative, huh? See what I meant by quirky charm?) I can only assume she has some basis in fact for the words she puts in Mr. Murakami’s mouth. I want to use some of those words, so I felt I should take some pains to explain where they came from.
I haven’t read a great deal of Jung, but I know he writes about that, the subconscious. Usually it starts with an image. I have a particular image in mind and I suspect there’s something deeper in it, so I follow it. I don’t know where a story is going any more than I know what’s around the corner—if I knew where it was going, it wouldn’t be any fun—but I follow it the way I follow a dream. Sometimes it’s a dream all my own, and sometimes I enter a universal dream, but I don’t analyze it. I don’t pick apart the symbolism. I find the riddles, not the solutions to the riddles. Often the power of a story, like the power of a good dream, is that I myself do not know what it means.
There are several key insights here:
- Having—or having to have—the complete story in your head before you begin to write is a one-way ticket to thin writing or writer’s block.
- As is having to be confident that you’ve got a good story idea before you start writing.
- Sometimes to get an idea, you have to—in the immortal words of Elmer Fudd—“Be vewy, vewy qwiet.” In other words, don’t analyze, don’t solve, rather be in the moment and follow it where it goes.
Ursula LeGuin (for real, this time) tells Gore much the same thing:
Where do I go to write a story? I don’t. I just sit here, waiting and waiting and waiting till the story begins to come to me. Then I sit very, very very still and try not to scare it off. If I grab at it, it might run under the sofa and hide, or escape entirely. Stories are like feral kittens. You have to be very patient and careful and quiet and put out little bits of chicken on the floor.
Point #2 (or something): Be yourself. Embrace your inner weirdo. Follow your genius down the rabbit hole.
Continuing with Ms. Gore channeling Mr. Murakami:
To write Kafka On The Shore, I woke up every morning at four a.m. Weekends included. I wrote for five hours and then, at nine a.m., I went for a run. Afternoons, I browsed the record stores. Then I went swimming or I played a game of squash. In bed by nine p.m. Seven hours’ sleep. I did this for a hundred and eighty days and then I had a draft. It’s a big book.
(Today, I bicycled 18 miles, hit the Friends of the Library Bookstore and two garage sales, bought seven books and a magazine. [The books totaled $3.75. The magazine was $12.99.] I was delighted to find that my writing process has so much in common with a famous author, even if he is the product of someone’s imagination.)
And this from Ariel Gore (channeling Ariel Gore):
BE JUST AS CRAZY AS YOU ARE
You know those eyes people look at you with when they’ve decided that you’re crazy? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s all right. Insanity is no prerequisite for the creative life. I’ve met many a fine sane writer…Don’t go crazy because you think it’ll make you a better writer….But if you know the eyes I’m talking about, listen: Of all the jobs they said you couldn’t have because you were too whacked in the head,…author wasn’t one of them. You can be a whacked author. There’s an undeniable link between madness and genius. You can be just as crazy as you are….Accept your madness. As long as you’re not hurting anyone, you have my full permission to be weird.
EMBRACE YOUR GENIUS
You have a unique and delicious genius to share. You see this vibrant and vulnerable planet in your own strange way. You draw connections that make you wonder if you’ve lost your mind. Your fears are specific, and alien to me. We’re human kin, you and me and Murakami—when we dig deep enough into our own individual wells, we reach the same universal stream—but the places we’re digging from, they’re different.
Genius: In ancient mythology, a supernatural being appointed to guide a person through life.
What does your genius look like? What does it sound like? Do you know? Or is she sitting there in the corner neglected because you’ve been busy chasing Murakami’s or Whitman’s or Doris Lessing’s genius?...
The sweet thing about a genius is that she doesn’t seem to hold grudges. She’s like the kid on the playground you kicked last week—jump too fast and she might retreat, but sit down quietly and offer to share your Tofurkey sandwich and she’ll cheer up immediately. She’ll take a bite. “Whatdoyawanna play?”
—Ariel Gore (op. cit.)
Once again, we are hearing: Be quiet. Get yourself out of the way. Let inspiration come to you.
- Be yourself
- Embrace your genius
- Be as weird as you are
- Be quiet
- Get yourself out of the way
- Let inspiration come to you
- Don’t judge it
- Don’t control it
- Follow it where it wants to go
This is an assignment in the book, from “Murakami” (a.k.a. Gore)
I meet many people who say, “I’ve had so many interesting and exciting experiences in my life. I could write novels about them.” I myself have not had many exciting experiences. The beauty of a short story is that you can test anything—a piece of conversation, a dream, a haunting memory, something overheard in a restaurant, anything mundane or resonant at all. Select a small and ordinary thing to test. Do not decide that you will write a great story from this fragment. Simply follow it in a kind of self-exploration.
As Gore/Murakami says, find something small, potentially interesting, not something you know is enough to support a full-fledged story. Start writing. Be quiet. Get yourself out of the way. Follow your idea down the rabbit hole. See what happens.
- Put SunWE in the title and tags.
- Share your post with Gather Writing Essential group.
- Indicate in some way which devices or techniques I should be paying attention to. (If responding to today’s, put Rabbit Hole in the title field.)
- This prompt does not turn into a pumpkin a week (or even two) from today. If your piece isn’t done in the next week or two, get it in when you can. This is supposed to be fun.
- I will comment on every submission and include a link to it in the next column.
- If you would like a little more academic critique—but still very friendly and positive—include the word "rigorous" in your post (e.g. "rigorous critique wanted").
Responses to previous prompts below. Let me know if I missed yours.
by Priya P.
by Sheila Deeth
by sarah leanne
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© 2013 Douglas J. Westberg. All Rights Reserved. Please share this on Gather.com, and elsewhere on the web by means of a link back to this page, but please do not copy. Doug's latest book is The Depressed Guy's Book of Wisdom from Chipmunka Publishing.
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