Thinking more about this. What's another book? Thirty books sitting here with me, forty books sitting here with me. What does it matter?
Envisioning a tight 130 or so pages. Looking at a title of The Other Side of the Table: How to Write with Maximum Purpose for Maximum Effect.
Like it or not, how we write says so much about us. Whether you're writing an email to your boss or a story that you want people to read and care about. I can know everything about a person from how they write a single note to me. I can see every aspect of their personality, their make-up, the contours of their soul. I know everything about you from how you write. Or all I need to know--one way or the other.
In every literary journal I see now, in every single new example of so-called literary fiction, and books thereof, I see the exact same thing, with no exceptions. I see no one writing with any purpose. No one who does this kind of writing ever asks a most basic question, a fundamental question: What is the point to this piece I'm writing here? Or: Does anyone really need to read what I am writing? And: Who is this for? What am I trying to do? What do I want to happen when someone reads these words? What should someone think? What should they feel? What should they know? What should they ask?
Why are you writing what you're writing? In almost every case, it's for the person writing it. Not as therapy, necessarily. Often so that they can call themselves a writer. For their ego. Because they are not anything else and they know it and you can fake it with writing, especially as the writing and publishing community is all about people bullshitting each other. No one says the truth in publishing or within writing communities. But I will tell you the truth. And if this is why you're writing, you're not a writer either. Or not yet, anyway.
The last thing writing is about is you. It's about the other person. Who is that other person? I call them the person on the other side of the table. If you want to write for just you, get a diary. But your email to the person on your project at work isn't for you. Your short story isn't for you. Your personal essay isn't for you. Don't be a narcissist. Write with purpose, no matter what you're writing. You don't work for you when you write. You work for the person on the other side of the table, whether that's one person or fifty million. That doesn't mean you tell them what they want to hear. You are reaching them with what you have determined they need, or can use, or would profit by, or would inspire them, or get them to do their job better, or recognize the awesome job they have already done, or, maybe, just maybe, to blow their fucking minds and bring their soul to life in ways they've never experienced.
We have to leave ourselves out of it. We don't matter when we write. We are the least important person at the table. Everyone else sitting there, and everyone else that we want to have sitting there, is exponentially more important than us. They are why we are there. They are why we write. So how do we reach them?
The book will look at the objectives of writing. The idea of them and never you. What I call "moves," which are always to be avoided. The paramount importance of energy in writing. The role of sound. What to avoid. Constructions to banish. The idea of no reader being left behind. Writing to levels. How to best be clear. When we want to open up a little mystery. The need to make reading feel as though the reader is not reading at all.
If someone reads what you wrote and feels like they are reading, is conscious of reading, you have failed. I am always conscious of reading when I look in any literary magazine. I feel like I am being forced to do the drudgery of homework. Only I don't have to, so I stop reading. Do you want to know a secret? So does everyone else, including the people on staff, and the people going on and on about the fantastic writers they're so fortunate to share an issue with.
Remember: nothing is easier than to stop reading. So how do we ensure that a reader keeps reading what we've written? I'll discuss taking the time to get things right, to examine a word and say, "Yes, sir, you are the right choice, whereas you, my friend, aren't getting the job done and must go." How writing is like chopping wood. The idea that if someone already said it, you probably shouldn't. You are your own person, are you not? And you are your own writer, no matter what you're writing. You need to be you. Are you a cliche? No? So don't use them then.
The book is about getting better at writing which means getting better at reading and vice versa. We should read, when we read what we write, as though we were anyone but ourselves. Writing is an act of empathy, of going into someone else. We must try and see what they see, process our words as they would process them. Don't read as you--read as that person on the other side of the table. Writing is a lot like math. It's a lot like jazz. It's a lot like architecture. It's painting. It's sports. It's dance. In some ways, the last thing writing is is writing.
I'll get into techniques to stop laziness from creeping into one's writing. The more care one takes, the more compact the process becomes. Over time. There's no half-assing writing. But you get better. And you know when you do. And that's a pretty great feeling, one that drives you on to get better still. Then everything starts to change. The world reveals itself in ways that it hadn't previously. We see differently. Hear differently. Think differently. Better.
I'll look at what I call Bunker Hill Creative Writing 101, which is what nearly everyone who writes literary fiction does. The role of the authentic voice and the rarity of true voice. What one can experience in life to get better at writing. What to look for. What to keep eyes and ears open for. You don't get better at writing reading shitty, faux-edgy Dennis Johnson novels, which are about as for-real edgy as a sea cucumber. You get better at writing by how you open yourself up to the world.
We must be realistic. Do we actually have a story to tell? Be ruthless. Don't spare your feelings. Feel like crap. Beat yourself up. Start again. See if there's something worth keep. Be able to start again always be it in writing or life--they are really the same thing when we understand both for what they are. Who is the story for? If the answer is us, then we're in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing.
You don't matter when you write. You are irrelevant. The best writers are selfless. I don't mean that they don't want to make a billion dollars. That's fine--go out and be the second best writer of all-time and try and make a billion dollars and change this world that needs so much changing. But that's after--that's not while one is writing. That's a result. Writing is all about being present. If we are not fully present, it's impossible to produce a great work of writing. We're lousy at being present now. So how do we get better at it?
Writing isn't about community. It's not about playing grab ass on Facebook with other people who also call themselves writers. Writing isn't about telling someone something so they'll tell you something back. It's not about carrying water for anyone. It's not about tote bags, writer retreats, showing off, trying to get people to think you're smart, looking at a form rejection note from a clip joint of a literary magazine no one reads and trying to boost yourself up by reading meaning that isn't there into the language.
Writing isn't about graduate school, it's not about what you know--it's about what you can go inside of and say what was there as you write your way out. Write from the inside out. Inhabit the innermost atom, then proceed to the world--to that person or people on the other side of the table. I'll expand on what that means. Writing is intense. It's competitive. We also have to try and be better at it than we were the day before. If someone does something you haven't done or don't think you should do, you should do what you can to understand what they did and how they did it.
Even if you never write that way, it changes you, becomes an unexpressed part of your arsenal. That part that is never given outward voice maybe informs something else that seemingly had nothing to do with it. The person who is anything but a theologian is all of a sudden writing their best ever science fiction story because they tried to understand how a piece of theological writing worked. You have to be open like that. The materials that help us write better can come from anywhere.
The world wants to give you stories, but only if you let it. Your story, too.
But this book is for everyone. Have a difficult note you want to write to your kid or your parent or your step brother way out in California about mom's failing health? Life stuff. You want to write it well. The best you can. You want to reach them as fully as possible. That doesn't just happen. Everything matters. A little thing can be a massive thing. Can make all the difference in the world--in your world. You're on your building's co-op board? Don't sound like a fuck-bag with a stupid letter to the unit owners. Write well. Say what you have to say effectively.
Nothing is harder to master. But this is also something we can get better at throughout a single day. The journey is long, but there can be hourly payoff--or payoff in a fraction of a second. Just by being aware. Just by what I'm going to show. You don't need to go off to school, you don't need to read 5000 books. You simply need to look at matters and consider them from different angle and perspectives. You have to be aware. You have to ask questions.
And have some self-respect. Writing is not about us, but it does say much about us. The person who cuts corners in their writing isn't that intent on communicating with you. On reaching you. On solutions. In sharing. In conveying. In common ground. In earnest rebuttal. They are willing to waste their time and yours. Does that not say much about them?
And you know what? You can bitch all you want--if you want to--but writing isn't going anywhere. We're stuck with it until we get chips planted in our brains so that we can communicate our thoughts and feelings to whomever we want silently, but we won't be fully human by then anyway, so what does it matter? Is that a serious person the person I described above? What do they take seriously? What do they deem worth a tiny bit of effort? Probably not much, right?
We're dependent on the written word and language--almost all of us--to handle much of our communication. Do you know why we are devolving as a society? Why people are becoming more and more mentally ill? Why there is such fragmentation? Why people possess so much anger towards the world, their fellow humans, and, most of all, themselves?
It's because no one can write. We can't communicate effectively. Then you have Twitter. Who has the largest platforms on Twitter right now? People who represent the lowest hanging fruit. Who have nothing new to say, nothing new to add. Whose language is empty. Meaningless. Platitudinous. Lazy. Pilfered. But a repetition of a millions other instances of the exact same thing. They are the living embodiments of a series of echoes. Everyone becomes a form of that. Echoes gravitate to echoes, but where are the human individuals?
We want to make our voice known, but we don't have the language skills. Writing isn't just something done on a piece of paper or a screen--writing is how you talk. It's how you think. It's how you are. It's how you text. Writing is editing. Writing is that second thought you have about that thing you thought you were going to do, before other reasons were examined.
We are a great big Tower of Babble, and the truth is, that tower is in the middle of toppling. It's just toppling in slow motion. We get angry when we can't express ourselves as we wish to, be heard as we wish to be heard. Do you know what we lose then? We lose a part of ourselves. We lose ourselves to ourselves. And do you know what else we're losing? Our very identity.
Your identity is the single greatest gift you have by dint of being human. It's the greatest opportunity of your life: to be an individual. For you to be you. Everything is built off of and up from that individuality: love, friendship, community. It's holy because it's also more than human. It's why we are not the raccoons.
But we forsake that identity as we throw our clumsy voices--again, bad writing, in all its forms--into the din of the land of Babble. We do it to ourselves. Or we don't know how to stop doing it to ourselves. So it's no wonder so many people have so much anger directed inwards. And what happens to anger that is directed inwards?
Well, a person has two options. They can realize what is happening, do some soul searching, then do the necessary hard work to fix what needs fixing in who they are, who they've become, so that they might begin going back in the opposite direction--rise again, as it were. Or rise finally.
Or, they can take that anger and direct it at others. People further along than they are, for instance, rare though that person might be. Given that they a lot of people take this approach, they can blend right in. But in to what? Shit into shit? They can surround themselves with people who echo exactly what they say, no matter how wrong it is, how misguided. That becomes the stuff of life. And what kind of life is that? A life of anger, depression, close-mindedness. Unhappiness. Weak relationships. Poor self-esteem. An absence of individuality.
That sucks. You don't want that. Do you think that's what you deserve? I hope not.
The way a person writes will even tell me what that person thinks they should have coming to them based upon what they're willing to put out into the world, into their relationships, into their life on a seemingly random Wednesday.
When we do right by ourselves, stand up for ourselves, defend ourselves, advocate for justice for ourselves--all of which constitutes writing--the person on the other side of the table is whom we are trying to reach. We don't interject a word because it makes us proud; we pick the right word to use to get across what we wish to get across. What should be gotten across. For maximum purpose. And maximum effect.
People don't read much now because there's next to nothing worth reading because no one can write. But you can get better at it, no matter who you are, and no matter who you want to reach. And the truth is, everyone, despite what they might say, and the apathy they might feign, or the tough person act they may adopt, they anger they perhaps hide behind, wants to reach people. That includes themselves as well.
I can help anyone get better. And a lot more. In, as I said, 130 pages. So I will do that.