Sunday, July 30, 2006

Duncan's Advice. Now if He'd Only Publish Another Novel.

The author of my favorite novel offers his advice about writing advice:
If the would-be author shows gumption and barks back, "Come on! I'm serious!" I am sometimes moved to inspire them with this:

"My very best, most financially useful writing advice to those who show extra spirit, the way you're doing, is this: If you want a sane work life, economic viability, happy family, home, flat abs, nice ass, reliable car, health insurance, and teeth, DON'T TRY TO WRITE BOOKS AT ALL! STOP NOW!"

That often ends the conversation, or at least moves it on to happier topics, such as viruses or STDs. Once in a rare while, though, I'll meet a humble yet determined would-be book writer who tells me, "Look. I know it's hard. I accept the inevitable poverty, daily frustration, familial humiliation, economic preposterousness, and fact that the work itself is horribly difficult. I also accept the fact that almost no one wants to read you when you're done. I understand all this. So now what's your advice?"

To these inspiringly stalwart individuals, I offer the following:

"You idiot! Come to your senses! Join a twelve-step Quit Lit program, sit down with the other junkies, and admit the terrible truth: 'My name is such and such, I love Literature, and Literature KILLS!'
But later, he gives a more earnest answer:
Remember Nero Wolfe, the impossibly brilliant yet somehow convincing 300-pound Manhattan Island detective who seldom left his chair, never left his house, lived for nothing but orchids, great food, microbrewed beer, and an occasional solved crime? Nero's inventor, Rex Stout, once said of authoring, "If you're not having fun writing it, nobody's going to have fun reading it."

Amen, I thought, decades ago, and so I began picking up thoughts and images, then questions and narrative threads, then voices, idiosyncratic nervous tics, oral tales, full-fledged characters, and having the best damned time I could, sick bastard that I'd become. This paltry, pifflized word, "f-u-n," became my key to the door of the literary kingdom.

A couple of decades ago my simplistic credo hit a snag when Joseph Campbell came along and made famous the phrase: "Follow your bliss." I didn't mind his slogan till hordes of self-styled Campbell followers turned it into a kind of verbal Happy Face, and translated Follow Your Bliss to mean anything from having five beers for breakfast to investing in strategic war metals to changing your name from Biff to Subhutti Sedona SkyTango to stringing along three lied-to lovers at once to liquidating some of your cyanide heap-leach gold stock to fund your Wild Man Weekend to trading in the wife and kids on the aforementioned vibrator. Hence, I was repulsed into forgetting Rex Stout's advice for a while. For any long-term full-time writer, though, the Have-Fun-On-Paper Concept is too crucial to let a few bliss-followers scare it away. You dry up without the fun hidden in the paper. You thirst.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great piece! Now my advice to
you is..... get off the topic of "depressing
songs," put a smile on your
face and take pen in hand (or
keyboard if you will). Mom

9:35 AM  

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