Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Junk Culture: Getting Your * Published - Part 1 (Demons and a reason to write)

This is pretty basic stuff but if you're going to be writing something you better know why you're writing it. (And if you hope to have that something published you should have a really clear idea of why it should be published. I'm not saying you need to present some concise argument like you're trying out for the debate team, but it wouldn't hurt.) So, why are you writing?

There is only one answer: demons.

If you answer anything other than demons, if you say something along the lines of money (you're an idiot) or fame (you're delusional) or it sounds like fun (you're naive) or you like a challenge (you've got too much time on your hands), than you're not going to be writing a novel.

Now, I know there are these people out there (not naming names) who decide on a whim to do something and usually they do it badly. I know more than a few people who woke up one sunny morning with the intention of become a painter. Forget the fancy training and the classes (or even a real drive to create), they were just going to the art supply store (or worse the hobby shop) to get paint to make modern art. What happens with the majority of these people is that 99% of them fail miserably and find something else to tackle -- like books. Then they fail miserably at that. Can I count on one hand how many people I've met who have crummy books in a box in their closet (or tucked into an obscure corner of their hard drive)? Yes, every week.

Demons, my friends.

They can be the horned kind. They can be green and scaly. Or they can have pigtails, glowing red eyes and elongated incisors. Regardless of how they appear to you, if you've got demons you have a reason to write. And most writers find that their demons actually push them to write. It's the same with most artists I've met. There has to be something driving you creatively for you to, well, create.

Demons can trail you from just about anywhere: bad childhood, addiction, sour romance, depression, mania, loneliness, desperation, anger, fear, loss. The trick is taming them and making them do your bidding. If you can take that demon, hoist it up on your shoulder and then have it direct your output you're half way there. Take away the bottle and put a pen in your hand and let all the fear and spite and sadness spill out onto paper. Now, I'm not arguing that all writing is born of strife. No, much of my writing comes from a very happy place. But it's the drive to write -- the need to put down that description of the beautiful landscape of your lover's face -- that is born kicking and screaming from some damaged place. You find me one person who is driven to write because of a wonderful, carefree life and I'll find that person's hidden demon. The conflict is the key.

You also need to be a reader. A fastidious, all encompassing reader. You need to eat, breathe and sleep books. If you're a movie fan who reads a magazine once a year and a novel one a decade you're in for serious hurt. That doesn't mean that all library whores would make excellent writers but it does mean that they can recognize good writing (one would hope). Recognizing good writing is a nice first step, but it tends to fall under that old "eye of the beholder" rule.

Writing can be an addiction. Speaking personally, if I don't take a few hours out of every day and write something -- anything -- than I feel an enormous sense of failure. That sucks and that's my demon. If I don't create every single damned day, then my demon will be riding my ass and whispering sweet nothings like "You suck" in my ear. When I do write, and especially when I have a good run and produce more than five pages a day, then its top-of-the-world time. It's better than Cats. And the demon's patting me on the back and telling me what a swell guy I am.

You need drive to write. You need to be devoted to the craft of it (that sounds like workshop speak and I'll get to that later, say, around part 4) and wrestle with it. If you don't wrestle with your work, if you don't come out of a good writing session either bruised and bloody or sweaty and smiling, then you're missing something. Maybe that's just me, but I really doubt it.

Okay so you've identified your demon and you're spinning words on the page. You've got an amazingly clever plot and fantastically developed characters. What's next?


Mark said...

This is great stuff.

My demon hangs on me like a backpack, and has horrible things to say about people. He swivels around me and whispers the most heinous of ridicules. Sometimes he makes me say them aloud. Mostly they go into the computer.

I love him.

Rayo Casablanca said...

Mostly. That's good. Otherwise I was going to start to worry.