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Friday, June 18, 2004

An odd confluence of things lately:

1) A literary reading was appended to a gig we were playing, and I was one of the readers. Consequently, I went through a bunch of my old stuff to find what I wanted to read.

2) Someone wrote me a complimentary note about a story I wrote about 8 years ago and had left up in an orphaned corner of the interweb (and NO, I'm not linking to it).

3) I read a Joan Acocella article on writer's block (via Hillary).

The thing that ties all of this together is a pretty basic fact: I am a fiction writer who hasn't written any fiction in the last 2 years.

Oh, there are reasons, of course; it's far from a straight dry spell, and it's not like anyone's actively mourning my absence from the contemporary fiction scene anyway. The basic outline is this: majored in creative writing, graduated, moved to New York to work in publishing, couldn't get a job in publishing, got a job at a music company, started doing music 20 hours a week outside my job. In other words, I do music now, not writing. Oh, sure, some of my lyrics (especially the longer songs) are basically short-shorts anyway, and indeed I've set a few short-shorts to music. But I'm not sure if that counts, especially compared to my previous output level.

Which was: HUGE. I wrote reams of stuff, constantly. For good reason, of course, since I needed to do so for my coursework--although I've come across a lot of exercises that have a footnote reading "sorry this was so long!"--but even before the program really ramped up, I'm pretty sure I still wrote a story a week or so. I mean, cats, I wrote a novel. It's crap, of course, being a first novel, but still, it was 56,597 words in about 6 months, and that ain't just whistlin' Dixie. But it's not just that. It's the short stories, the experimental pieces, the exercises, the creative non-fiction...

And so going through the old material was weird. For one thing, I found pieces that I hadn't even known existed, that quite frankly I wouldn't have known were mine were it not for the name at the top and certain telling traits. None of it was good, really (in contrast to songs I've forgotten about but quite enjoyed), and it was just so weird to come across things I obviously put some effort into, but forgot entirely; on the bright side, at least I didn't misjudge a possible classic of Western Literature etc.

It was pretty painful. This may be a big egotistical to say, but I can now see why artists don't understand why people like their old stuff, and talk about how much they dislike it. How could you dislike or be embarrassed by something you made, that people enjoy? Well, for one thing, you see things in it that you really dislike in other people's work, and which you've tried hard to eliminate from your own stuff, but there it is. And sure, people like it, but people like the lazy, stupid crap other people produce, too. Maybe I'll feel that about my music someday, but for now, oh sweet lord, please don't let anyone see those goddamn stories I wrote when I was young and foolish (instead of slightly older and foolish, of course).

Mainly, I think, what made it an eye-opening rather than a merely cringe-inducing experience was the accumulated effect of reading through so many examples of my style and seeing how the tics that irk me in one instance start to wear down my will to live when repeated over and over again. The forced whimsy, the smartassed referentiality, the self-satisfied over-description, the nonsense words, the flat characterizations, unsurprising plotting driven by a desire for everything to come out OK, an unhealthy aversion to realism (which I had issues with, philosophically), consciously avoiding emotional depth, pursuing a false lyricism, etc.

One of the most surprising things I noticed was how imitative I was. A lot of the stuff turns out to be shameful rip-offs of an a) author I'd rather not name (v. embarrassing) and, although I would have fiercely denied it at the time and still deny it half-heartedly now, b) Robert Coover. (I thought I was just building on certain McSweeney's dictums, but no, Coover it is.) That young writers imitate other writers is understandable; that I was still doing so at that point was just silly.

The last story I've written is currently standing at 31 pages, and I haven't worked on it in the last 9 months. (It's also--natch--heavily influenced by David Foster Wallace, my current literary crush, which is annoying, but I'm choosing to ignore it, much as I choose to ignore his influence in my blog prose.) It's good, I think, but I just can't get going on it, and I can't start anything new. The problem with the current story, as far as I can tell, is that I can feel it's reached its peak, or a peak, and now I need to bring it to a close. But I can't seem to do it, can't figure out what should happen or how to get to what I want to happen. And this is an issue that I've never really resolved; the major difference between this piece and a lot of the old pieces I went through is that this one doesn't have an ending, whereas the old ones have shitty, slapped-on endings. Indeed, one of the biggest problems I see with my stuff is structural: I don't always know how to pace it, what feels rhythmically good to me as I'm writing it doesn't fly on the page, and the endings, well...the endings just plain ol' suck.

My best endings--and there are a few, I'm not trying to be too self-flagellating here--tended to be summations, conclusions of all that had come before, that tied everything up; synthesis, in other words. The rest were almost always marked for revision. In my striving for the former effect I too often ended up with the latter, because the former felt so good when I pulled it off, so complete and so right. But in pursuing this path with such regularity, I gave up the option of effectively using a lot of those modernist short-story endings that seem complex, but which always struck me as very easy. You know the type: "Well, guess I'll end it here on this minor epiphany and everyone will have to backtrack to figure out what I meant, even though I really just can't think of anywhere else for it to go..." Perhaps I'm being unkind, but we've all had these thoughts at one time or another when confronted with a sudden ending, no?

There's a good point about this in the Acocella article:

In former forthrightly answered the audience’s emotional needs: tell me a story, sing me a song. Modernism, in refusing to do that duty, may have a lot to answer for in the development of artistic neurosis. If art wasn’t going to address the audience’s basic needs, then presumably it was doing something finer, more mysterious—something, in other words, that could put the artist into a sweat. As long as art remained, in some measure, artisanal—with, for example, the young Leonardo da Vinci arriving in the morning at Verrocchio’s studio and being told to paint in the angel’s wing—it must have fostered steadier minds.

"Sing me a song..." Yes. I wonder if I am maybe un-Modernist in this way. (Post-Modernist? Post-post-Modernist? Somebody kill me!) I was, am, either unwilling or incapable of not catering to this desire, even as I'm unable to consistently pull it off. And so, lacking a set of working methods to achieve these sorts of synthetic (hardee har har) endings, it was a problem I had to re-solve every time, which is draining, inefficient, and unproductive, especially given the great number of pieces I was producing that needed endings.

It's almost infinitely easier to structure a song than a story. This is certainly one of the things that's attracting me to music these days: that I can robustly describe a piece's structure with a chart, that I can take a grid and perfectly express a beat I want to hear. This is especially true when it comes to endings. Because, really, you don't often have to make up something new for the ending of a song; at most you'll write a bar or two, and there's actually an extremely well-established system for constructing cadences. Mainly, though, you repeat something, and while this can be tricky, it sure is a hell of a lot easier than making up a grand statement, a kind of overture in reverse. Really, once you've written the first minute and a half of a song, you've written the song, bar an extended coda, and even then you don't necessarily have to have much relation between that bit and the rest of the song (although the fact that the option is there actually makes the arrangement that much easier). The climax you're building towards happens in the chorus or the bridge, and then once you figured out that, it's just a matter of arranging everything in the most pleasing bits. Which is not to say that this itself is not a very delicate and difficult art, but it still seems easier, somehow--for one thing, rearranging a song is a thousand times easier than rearranging a story, where whole new issues tend to come up--and any resulting imperfections somehow seem more rewarding than is the case with a story. Maybe this is because anyone can tell a story, whereas it takes some training to construct a song--but when playing and composing music becomes as easy as speaking and writing, what then?

Maybe I'm comparing apples and oranges here; maybe if I was composing string quartets or stuff for an electronic ensemble or jazz quartet--art music--I'd be wrestling with many of the same issues. But the point persists in my mind that there's not that much difference between the stories I was trying to write and the songs I currently am. Maybe that was the problem.


One of my biggest issues with writing fiction, I've come to realize, is that I get too caught up in critical issues. More on this in a bit, but for now I want to focus on one particular issue, one that's brought up a few times in the Acocella article--indeed, it's the concern that leads into the quote above.

The issue, of course, is writing as self-revelation. My issues with this stemmed from an extreme distaste I had (and still have, to the best of my knowledge) for confessional literature. There was, of course, a lot of this around when I was taking off my writer's water wings (metaphorically speaking)--memoirs or autobiographical fiction structured largely around some sort of tragic event the author had gone through, such as incest, disability, death, disease, etc. I had many objections to this, suffice to say[1], but one of the more persuasive ones I pulled out (i.e. it was intended to convince possible confessees to do otherwise rather than to rail against current confessors) was that it was a stupid move, career-wise, since once you've given up your life's great tragedy, what else can compare? What else can you write about? The article addresses this issue of shooting your wad, as it were:

But loss of energy is only one problem. Some people use up their material. There has been much puzzlement among literary historians over the petering out of Melville’s career as a novelist after he published “Moby-Dick,” at the age of thirty-two, and various theories have been advanced: that he was permanently embittered by the reviews of “Moby-Dick,” that he felt his fiction revealed too much about his latent homosexuality, and so forth. But John Updike, in an essay on this question, says that basically Melville exhausted his artistic capital—his seafaring years—in “Typee,” “Omoo,” and “Moby-Dick.” If, after those books, he wrote a couple of mediocre novels and then gave up the trade, it is no surprise.

I didn't think much of the alternative to this, however. For instance, should Melville then not have written Moby-Dick? I think my theory was that if you were a good enough writer, if you had the talent to string together words in a good enough way, to think about things in an interesting enough way, then the story would carry itself. That skill, in other words--something you could develop, something you could work on and get better at gradually--wins the day over the more arbitrary dictates of experience, since one generally would not choose to go through a particularly tragic event. Tragedy might provide something momentary and fleeting, something of voyeuristic impulse, but skill would win the day.

Now, though, while I still get leery at the idea of wholly autobiographical fiction[2], especially that which focuses on tragedy, I think if I had to advance this view again (and I'm not really interested in doing that), I'd have to modify it a good bit. For instance, I've seen how personal tragedy can be used in incredibly effective ways, one of the best examples probably being Infinite Jest, which was informed strongly by Wallace's history with addiction and recovery, but which does so many wonderful things with those bits of information that, I think, the tragedy becomes not the focus but simply a seasoner that makes the whole work richer. And, when reviewing my own work, it's pretty clear to me that things have more impact when they resonate with you, too, and I can't think of many ways of doing that besides tying it, in one way or another, to your own personal experiences. Stuff that comes from living it almost always seems better, even if you don't know that it comes from experience (as I didn't when reading IJ for the first time).

So I think that in place of either skill or experience, I would have to put as a guiding virtue personality. This may be, of course, simply a reflection of my more recent involvement with rock criticism (which is way more personality-driven--think of the sort of very personal pictures you might have of Bangs, Christgau, etc.), but I think it holds true. Personality is not something that just happens to you, it's something you've developed, but it's also dependent on your experiences. And put that--a strong personality that's expressed well through words--behind a good story, and that's what I'm looking for. It's a reflection of the "I'd read that person writing about anything" idea--something that's true for a lot of my current favorite writers (Wallace, Klosterman, Havrilesky, etc.) and something that I'd love to see in myself. This still leaves in place a whole lot of other issues discussed above--structure, accuracy, pacing, etc.--but I did say it wasn't a theory I wanted to really argue for, right?


But like I say, I didn't write from any of these things--I wrote from ideas. Blech! Can you imagine anything worse? Oh, sure, there was experience, imagination, design, all of that was back there, too, but what I was mainly driven by, I think, was ideas about different ways to write. It was horrible! At one point I even wrote an essay about a sort of rigorous method of experimentation for prose, of producing fiction that was truly experimental. It struck me at the time that there weren't a whole lot of other systems out there, but it regrettably did not strike me why. Why? Because it's a fucking horrible way of producing art, that's why.

I mean, christ, who can do that? If there are any writers who claimed to follow systems, they seem mainly notable for the way they deviated from them. Writing is, quite simply, not something that's driven by theory; you have to generate so much of it to generate a piece, so much of it that just has to come from nowhere at all, that has to be fully created, that there's no system you can really design that could encompass all the variables. Sure, there are certain tenets you can try and stick by, but ultimately you have to sort of follow your muse, to follow your instinct, and that's something you either have or you don't.

But nothing I've said above--"skill" "talent" "instinct" "experience"--none of it means anything. None of it is actually generative; there's no direct correspondence between it and a finished piece of writing. Where does writing come from? Music, that comes from somewhere--it comes from an instrument. Art comes from the materials you use. Dance comes from the movements of the body. So, for instance, I can sit down at my computer, boot up FruityLoops, drop in an instrument, and click randomly on buttons on the screen. This can then give me a discernable melody. I loop the melody and orchestrate it; there I have a section. I develop it into a logical key-change and orchestrate that; I've got another section. I put those in a certain sequence, add a logical beat, and voila, there's a song. Might not be a good song, but it is a song. Similarly, I can slap some paint on a canvas, and that's legitimately a painting. I can wobble around the room, and that's a dance. But you simply cannot sit down in front of a blank piece of paper and put down whatever words spring to mind. That's not a story, plain and simple.[3] The source of inspiration for something great remains mysterious in all artistic forms, but writing seems to me the one where you can't even make something shitty from nothing.

And that's why you can't write from ideas--it's like applying a mathematical formula to an empty set. If there's nothing there, there's nothing to apply the idea to, and in the absence of material, you inevitably spend more time developing the ideas than actually coming up with material to apply them to. And when the ideas aren't very interesting, then you're pretty much screwed.

The Acocella article has some interesting stuff on this, especially on the Romantic creation of a source for writer's block, which coupled the notion of personality to creation (aha aha!). In contrast to writers like Dickens for whom writing was a sort of mechanical process where you just sat down and did it[4], a "a rational, purposeful activity, which they controlled," the Romantics "came to see poetry as something externally, and magically, conferred," what Shelly called "'some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind,' which more or less blew the material into the poet, and he just had to wait for this to happen." The problem with this, of course, is that sometimes it doesn't, and that can be very frustrating. Some even say it can drive a man...mad!

Early on, in 1941, came Edmund Wilson’s book “The Wound and the Bow,” which reinvoked the ancient Greek formula of the mad genius...Wilson concluded that “genius and disease, like strength and mutilation, may be inextricably bound up together.” In 1945, Wilson made the point again, by publishing, under the title “The Crack-Up,” a collection of the later writings of his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald...Fitzgerald’s own description of his situation (“No choice, no road, no hope”), helped plant the idea that his early exit was somehow a normal pattern, at least for American writers...In 1947, Partisan Review printed an essay, “Writers and Madness,” by one of its editors, William Barrett, claiming that the modern writer was by definition an “estranged neurotic,” because the difficulty of being authentic in a false-faced world forced him to go deeper and deeper into the unconscious, thus pushing him toward madness: “The game is to go as close as possible without crossing over.” Many did cross over, he added darkly.

Claptrap, of course, but convincing claptrap, as it turned out; how persistent the idea of the "mad genius" is in today's culture is impossible to measure, but is undeniably big big big. (It is, indeed, one of the reasons confessional literature was so popular, I think.) Even worse, as the article suggests at one point, the idea may have created the reality; in a cultural context that values authenticity (witness the discussion of Trollope's critical blacklisting), are you a "real" author if you're totally sane? Well, sure, but kids are very impressionable, you know.

It's sad that this idea persists. A psychologist who claims to have had success treating "blocked" writers says, "I have never seen a ‘normal’ writer," but holy crap, man, I've never seen a "normal" human being, really. We all have our mental disorders--what matters is how well we deal with them. And for me, at least, there's no possibility of producing writing if I'm not dealing with it in one way or the other.

To quote Almost Famous: "Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song?" I'd been working on this song for a while, a song I'd started while mooning around the apartment, and it was OK, but I had no idea where to take it; the song was so tied to that specific feeling that a slightly different form of mooning made me unable to understand what the hell I was trying to say, and thus incapable of figuring out what to do with the damn thing.

But then one Saturday me and the missus got up early and went to midtown. She was meeting a friend w/parents for lunch; while she was there, I decided to go to Chelsea Piers and hit some baseballs. It was a hell of a lot of fun. Oh, sure, the walk over (from the 8th Avenue/23rd street C/E to 21st and 11th, on the water) was kind of desolate and weird, but it was great to be outside and in some sort of stillness for a while. When I got there I was a little confused, but then I found the entrance ('round the back, son) and made my way into the fieldhouse, which was like stepping out of the city--there were families everywhere, everything was sort of bright and clean, there were all these little kids, playing sports...I mean, I think there were even a few birthday parties. Indoor soccer, basketball, it felt very warm, somehow. And then I got to hit baseballs, which always makes me feel better for some reason, and the people I was sharing the cage with (so to speak) was a grandfather-father-son rotation that was awesome, and five Australians who mainly tried to understand the process in relation to cricket. There was camaraderie, there was ambient merriment, there was the joy of whacking the hell of out small balls. And so I left feeling very good, and as I took the bus uptown to meet the missus, I finished the song, almost without thinking. It was still a sad song, about sad things, and even very specifically about things that had happened to me that day, while I was feeling good. But I would not have been able to write it if I hadn't been in a good, or at least neutral, mood.

What I'm trying to say is that mental illness is not a prerequisite for artistic creation; it is, on the contrary, an impediment, and moreover something almost completely separate from the act itself. As the article points out, "the mind is actually the brain, a physical organ." It's part of the body, and so while these sorts of diseases may have positive or negative effects on a writer's output (just as physical maladies do--ask Borges), there's no correspondence. In many ways, the major effect is to impede your ability to work.


In college, specifically the period of college when I was taking literary theory courses in conjunction with writing courses, I realized that the better my pieces of argumentative (and specifically argumentative) non-fiction got, the worse my fiction got. It wasn't just the stuff I discussed above about idea-driven fiction; I could still write more purely inspirational (tee hee) stories, i.e. stuff that just originated from an image or a narrative, but they were still tainted by the particular mind-set of argumentation. Stories can make points, of course, but they're rarely good when doing so explicitly, and as you may have noticed from reading this blog, I tend to do things like argue in a very confrontational way for optimism, argue in a very negative way for positivism, and argue in a very explicit way for the values of ambiguity. Sometimes this works, but mostly it doesn't, and it especially doesn't work when the whole project is tainting a story. Criticism can be very effective and engaging when serving an explicit project, but fiction needs to stand alone, ultimately, and you don't really read a story for an argument--or, at least, you don't really read a story for one side of an argument. But even representing a real dialogue doesn't work, because you do have a conclusion you want to get to, and that's rarely effective. You respond to a plot's or character's points of view (as it were) rather than their effectiveness or interest level, and that can kill fiction dead.

But this was clear before. What's not clear is the way in which not just the mind-set, but the issues under consideration, can kill not only particular avenues, but all avenues--the way doubt can become all-pervasive. The article, for instance, mentions that for the French symbolists, "the problem was with language: how to get past its vague, cliché-crammed character and arrive at the actual nature of experience." But, of course, I have little interest in getting at "the actual nature of experience" (which would seem to be, I don't know, actually experiencing things?), and lots of folks have made great stuff while ignorant of the cliches they were working with (lots of that embarrassing early work I mention above fits in this category), to say nothing of the stuff that was so great that it become a cliche; was that never a true expression experience, then?

The problem with cliches is less that they're bad in and of themselves (after all, what if you've really had a madwoman in your attic? Should you not write about that? That sounds pretty cool!) and more that they come from someone else, and so it's a shortcut, which means that you're not getting all the band for your buck you could be getting, artistically speakin'. It's like (sorry to keep using this kind of analogy) using a mathematical theorem without understanding how it's derived: it'll work, but you get a lot more out of it if you understand its full range of possibilities.

But ultimately, I think the real problem with the critical mind-set is that, whether you're looking for cliches, inauthenticity, ornateness, or conservatism, you can find it in almost any piece of writing, and given that most writers are their own worst critics, it's easy to conclude, when you're more concerned with the preponderance of X in literary fiction than with writing a good story, that you are incapable of escaping this trap, and thus incapable of writing something worth reading.

It's easy to forget that writers are readers, too, and that writing is a dual act--the act of putting the words down and the act of comprehending them both contemporaneously and after the fact. Writing is interpretation, and the generosity of your evaluative judgments dictates, in large part, what you'll allow yourself to put down. If you don't even like what you're saying, then why write it? The fact is, you have to be willing to take chances, to use cliches and personal experience and all the rest of it, in pursuit of a good piece.

I think this is, in part, why I am such an insistent, even confrontational, optimist when it comes to criticism: the slide into bitterness, into hating almost all art and thus becoming incapable of producing or enjoying it, seems an easy one. Maybe this is just my own set of issues, but so many people have no interest in art (as I discussed here under the rubric of Not Liking Music-Ism) that I don't understand why there's an assumption that a current cultural consumer is immune to losing interest, nor why criticism/reviews wouldn't have as big an effect on this as the work itself, which, after all, is nothing if not near-infinite in possibilities. I'm almost never convinced of the argument that you have to vigorously express opposition to something in order to make the thing as a whole better, at least not anymore. It can be fun, but it should only be entertainment.

So what's the way out of this? It's an easy one, and one that many, many, many fiction writers seem to embrace: don't read criticism, especially given that it's still in its reactive phase of exposing the cracks in our assumptions rather than in patching the over.[5] But criticism is fun--to read and to write. And what if you're better at criticism than fiction, as it turns out? Well...


(almost done here; stick with me now.)

So what to do with all this old work? I've briefly entertained the possibility of really revising it, getting it sharp, because there is some good stuff there, and I've even done extensive markups of a few pieces.

But the problem is that revising is my other big weakness when it comes to writing. I'm horrible at it. Clearly I shouldn't be, and clearly this isn't something endemic to writing, since lots of other people seem capable of revising. (Wallace famously cut 500 pages of out IJ, for instance, which, whoa.) But it just seems so hard to me. With music, everything is very discrete, so you can identify that the guitar line's not working and change that without having to touch anything else, or even if you do have to, you'll only have to do it in one bit of the song, not the whole thing; you can repair pieces without disturbing the whole. And if it's "just not working," well, you can start from scratch a lot more easily since there's something specific you're building from.

With writing, on the other hand, I get these pretty specific suggestions, and they're clearly good and useful, but when they're anything broad, I just can't seem to pull 'em off. I can't seem to revise a whole character, or rewrite a section, or change a plotpoint. What I drop in seems clearly different from what surrounds it; when I write, it's very much from a rhythm and a flow, and so when I have to just jump in, it doesn't work, somehow. Maybe I'm just blinded, but it almost never seems to work out.

I feel like what I need, and this would help with the structural stuff above too, is a producer for my writing: someone to not only tell me what needs to be fixed, but to work with me on precisely how, to be there directing my performance and to be able to evaluate it from an outside perspective afterwards. Someone to take what I've got and give me fruitful instructions on how to tie it all together, where to add and where to take away. It sounds like an editor, but it's different, somehow--editors aren't recognized as wholly part of the process, whereas producers are, and that's what I want. Basically another musician working on the song, except the song is a story.

But this won't happen, because writing is a solitary art. Actually, that's a big reason why I'm not writing anymore, I think. Writing alone for years and years and then getting something published in a small magazine and then getting something in a large magazine a year later and then finally a book three years later can be fine, but when I started playing in bands and started playing with other people, I realized not only how boring but how limiting it felt to create without collaborators and without an immediate audience. There's no question about whether a song works or not, because there's an audience right there, clapping or not, coming up to you afterwards or not. Instant feedback--for better or worse, that's what I grew to need, and now the idea of writing without it seems impossible, or at least foolish.

And so I justify it, and I explain it away as simply the way things go in the creative world: musicians are at their peak when young, so best to pursue that when I can still convincingly rock out, whereas writers often improve with age, up to a certain point, so there will be time for all that later. But is this really true, or is it finito?

Of course, there are reasons for the literary drought and musical bounty besides mere age. Music theory has helped me be more creative with music--it gives me options for how to put things together, suggests to me new ideas about where a piece can go, provides a repository of traditional fixes for problems I may be struggling with. For literary theory, the opposite seems to be true. The further I progress in it, the more I feel restricted in my writing options, the more aware I am of how little I know and how weak my skillz are. It's intimidating, and it can be crushing.

But maybe this is simply reflective of my stance in regards to each medium. Even when I was a full-time writer (and an only occasional musician) I talked about how I hated the novel, how I hated this and that style of writing. With music, I now have affection for almost all kinds, and even those that I might decry theoretically I can still make, admit that I'm making it, and then enjoy regardless.

Does it all come down to the apple-and-oranges conflict between Modernist writing and the more pre-Romantic musical model I'm so productively following? Is the problem that I am desperately waiting for inspiration instead of just getting out and writing? Certainly the technique's been productive for the blog. It has nothing to do with my personality as such--it's about a certain style I've developed, coupled with an ability to see things in a certain way that's more indicative of mental quickness than charm. It's anonymity, too, the idea of these missives being like an ode, or a sonnet. It seems to work. But can you actually apply this to literary fiction? I guess I don't know, and I guess it would be stupid to try, since again I'd be merely writing from ideas instead of interest. Maybe the road back leads, as I imply, through appreciation rather than criticism, through finding things to love in writing rather than things to despise.

Maybe this is just a good thing regardless, though, and the other things, they are just things, not good or bad; I'm doing music now, and I may or may not do writing later, and it's no big deal either way. I am no great gift being squandered, and there's always another path to try. But, of course, maybe that's a trap, too.

n.b. in accordance with the above, this post was not revised before publishing, although the author reserves the right to do so later, when he’s not shell-shocked

[1] One of which I'm footnoting here because I'm not sure if I'm going to get to it below: I objected to the lack of imagination that pervaded this sort of literature, the lack of any creative impulse beyond revelation, and I lobbied hard for, among other things, explicitly writing what you don't know, to write from a stance of being misinformed. The trouble with this, I realized while reading my own fiction, is that when you write about what you're uninformed of, you sound like an idiot. What ends up happening is, since you have to write from somewhere, you imagine things as being not unlike what you are familiar with, and this is either a) your own experience, or b) stereotypes. Trying to imagine what working in an ad agency, for instance, is like, and I would combine these two to decidedly cringe-worthy effect. Even worse, there would be no way to convince me to change it at that point, since I had no reason to believe that I was wrong! Ah well.
[2] Hate though I might some of my uninformed pieces (see above) there are undeniably times when I got it right--when I was able to present, say, a convincing portrait of an elderly woman, or an orphan in the 19th century--and I'm much prouder of this than I am of any of the more strictly personal stuff that people have responded to strongly. It's still an urge I resist, though, even though I'm not as enamored with the theory anymore; I still don't want to give too much of myself away in writing. It doesn't seem wise.
[3] It may be a "language poem," however. Boy, am I not going to get into that right now.
[4] A view I endorsed for a long time, until I looked at my own writing and realized that just wasn't working. The question then becomes how you become a craftsman instead of merely a laborer. The answer is probably practice, an idea I also endorsed, but I was seeing diminishing returns, it seemed.
[5] Post-structuralism is a pretty obvious tack by now, so as I've pointed out in the past, I think what remains is to say, OK, there's no there there, but since we need to (and do) continue living our lives, what's the most effective way of doing this? It seems especially necessary when it comes to art, to find some purpose for it. But that's for another time.