Tag Archives: the writer’s craft

Do our writing habits define what we write?

IMG_2783.JPG

While catching up with a fellow blogger today (Holistic Wayfarer), I started to complain about my general ongoing lack of inspiration to write anything currently, when my mind went off on a weird tangent, as it is frequently wont to do.

I then posted some silly remark about my sitting in Ernest Hemingway’s favorite writing chair. Immediately after which I dimly recalled once reading how Hemingway always wrote standing up. See here for the article http://www.openculture.com/2013/10/ernest-hemingway-standing-desk.html

Old grumpy-pants Ernie is not alone in this, evidently. Dickens, Churchill, Nabokov and Virginia Woolf also held to an anti-sendentary stance regarding the how-to’s of writing.

Which got me to thinking about the physical act of writing and how it affects the content of what we write. For instance, I grew up knowing quite a famous writer, who was a family friend of my parents. And he too wrote standing up, perching his typewriter atop of an old lectern.

I always felt as a child that this family friend looked like he was giving a lecture when he wrote. Or that he was preaching perhaps.

As for myself, I am currently writing this with my thumb on an iPhone. While sitting stretched out on a couch; a cool breeze licking around my heels, as it eddies in through the open patio doors. (See photo at top — borrowed from another article on famous writers’ weird habits). Hence my overly casual style maybe?

But what about you? What is your preferred method of getting words onto the page? Do you need absolute quiet, or does the erratic tinkle of a wind chime get your muse online? Is alcohol mandatory or verboten? Incense, candles or a strong cup of coffee — what of them? Don’t be shy about it, plenty of people write in bed or the bath or even the buff, allegedly?! And what if they do, does it change what they produce?

Let me know what you think…


The Golden Art

Original artwork by Lorem Ipsum 2014

Original artwork by Lorem Ipsum 2014

I can’t exactly confess to having been afflicted with writer’s block this past year. For instead it’s truer to say I had totally given up on being a writer altogether.

Ironically, however, the circumstances leading to my complete abandonment of my craft, I believe, make for an interesting enough story, on reflection.

After having seen my debut novel sink beneath the waves of global public indifference, it was suggested to me I seek guidance in the form of mentoring from an already established writer.

And as an example of the adage “careful what you wish for”, through a series of seemingly synchronistic events, I soon managed to make contact with one of this country’s more celebrated and awarded writers.

What thrilled me most of all was the fact that this writer in question also claims to have been largely inspired to write by the very same 17th century alchemist I myself have been. Too mind-blowingly cool!

Anyway, now the story gets a little bit more complicated. Because my first real contact with this writer is actually with his wife. An amazing experience in itself. For, literally two or three days earlier, I had quite by chance read the book of poems written for her by her future husband to be, with which he had first wooed her. And now here was this great writer’s muse standing before me — in the hallowed recesses of his writing studio no less — sharing intimate details of the intervening 40 years of their married lives together.

“I think he really is happy at last,” she confessed to me, “now that he has decided to stop writing.”

It was the usual story. There’s no money in it anymore, the dumbing down of the reading public, the all-pervasive curse of political correctness. This is a man after all that can recite whole cantos of classical poems in their original Latin, from memory. I mean, I feel stupid even thinking of myself as a writer worthy of the name in comparison.

So I listen to how this great luminary has finally decided to call it quits and feel all conviction drain from my body. Still, I leave my details with his wife and arrange for a time when it would be convenient for me to make contact with the man I wished to be my writing mentor.

Soon afterwards, I do in fact next have a telephone conversation with the man himself. Although the problem is that I can’t seem to clarify whether he thinks he is going to mentor me as an apprentice alchemist or as a failed novelist. Argggh, it’s all so hopeless! I don’t know what the hell’s going on.

“Look, it’s very hard to talk about these things abstractly,” he says, “but I’ve got a book of essays coming out next month that explains everything. Give me your address and I’ll send you a copy. Read that, and then we can start from there.”

Fine. I’m totally confused. Not least because his wife has just told me he has quit writing, and yet now I’m informed he apparently has a new collection of essays coming out. Also, I don’t know if I’m ready to start an apprenticeship as a real-life alchemist any time soon.

A month passes. Nothing. No book of essays comes my way. Just as I suspected. The whole thing was an elaborate lie to brush me off. Okay, so this writer is no JD Salinger when it comes to reclusive writer types, but he’s not exactly the kind to hold literary soirées either. All right fine. I give up, I think to myself. Being a writer simply isn’t worth it. What’s more, I’ve made a complete golden ass of myself with this whole mentoring debacle already.

Two months pass. Three, four, five. Still nada. I turn my attention to honing my guitar playing skills, swearing to never write another stinking word. Alchemy is for the birds. What delusional world had I been living in? Synchronicity? Oh, brother!

Seven, eight, nine months go by. I haven’t written a single poem, stanza or word. But my guitar playing is off the chart. Woo-hoo, couldn’t be happier.

Ten, eleven, twelve months have now past, when I pull up in the driveway and see an envelope sticking out of the letterbox. I grab the oversized piece of post and open it distractedly in the front seat of the car.

Oh, shit. It’s the book of essays, but I can’t remember their significance. I’m finally happy being just another second-rate guitarist rocking the suburbs. Man, I’ve given up. Like really given up. What the fuck. I feel like someone has just dragged the needle back across the record of my life, and that the back-masked message I’m now hearing threatens to implode the very reality of my new simple, dumbed-down choice of existence.

“Read that, and then we can start from there,” my would-be mentor had told me almost exactly a year ago.

Start what? I can’t remember what it was I wanted so badly. Let me go back to my Wild Turkey and amplified heat haze. Fuck this, I was happy. I was happy for having quit.

I crack open the cover of the book, searching for answers. But it only gets worse. My mentor has handwritten notes to me in the margins of his own book. His tone is jovial and self-deprecating; his handwriting impeccably informal.

Don’t make me go back to being my old self, I beg the Fates. It’s too hard to contemplate. I’m a fraud. A master alchemist will see right through me. I’ve forgotten how to turn words into a golden phrase. I have fallen out of love with all language and it with me.

But still I hold this invitation in my hands.


some thoughts on waxing and waning lyrical like the moon

there is no poetry coursing through my veins
when I first stare at the blank page
the grip of inspiration yet to take a hold of me
and that time come when I should feel again
like a wolf ensnared in a steel trap for
instead at first I taste the familiar taste of failure
a tightening in my chest a shortness of breath
what if my mind becomes undone? what if
my words cease to punch above their weight?
such questions vex me like a gypsy curse sworn
under a blood red moon in an evil, hieratic tongue
but even so I will endure all this and worse by far
if, as now, the wordless ecstasies I enjoy by tracing
the concatenations of my unknowable soul with a pen
continue to outshine the agonies of my self-inflicted doubt.


for without her i am nothing

listening for the
intimations
of the muse
a soft, jealous
task of inquiry
after finer threads
of meaning
with which to
craft a fresh
wonder of words


A Feast of Words

When all the traps are baited
And the snares precisely set
The hunter catches
A guarded hour of rest
He drinks a bowl of wine
And chews the rinds of time
Waiting for the kill which
Brings deferred completion…
Death’s release from
Earthly bondage
With boldly-blooded mask
The huntsman’s art
This primal, sacred task.


The Writer’s Art and Learning How to Read People Like an Open Book

I had a brilliant exchange of ideas today, with a regular visitor to the Missing Zero Facebook page. Now, look, I know from reading other authors’ blogs here at WordPress a lot of you don’t know what Facebook offers. And usually I would wholeheartedly agree with you.

But recently I’ve started to get some good interactions happening. Sure, there’s still the odd, drunken interloper who types random, semi-coherent comments about all sorts of bizarre stuff. However, the slightly surreal nature of the Missing Zero page probably lends itself to these kinds of agents of chaos dropping by. My bad.

Anyhow, as I was saying earlier, this regular visitor to my Facebook site and I got into quite a prolonged exchange, whereby we ended up covering a whole range of different topics. Which got me to thinking about how, quite literally, everybody’s got a story to tell.

You see, the thing is, as writers, it’s easy for us to forget that telling stories is not the sole preserve of we wordsmiths alone. Everybody has something interesting to say, ultimately, sheerly by having experienced this precarious condition of what we term being alive.

For instance, this guy I was messaging backwards and forwards with began telling me about some experiences he’d had with the supernatural. I can’t divulge too much, unfortunately, because I haven’t okayed it with him first. Yet, let me just say, though, it was some pretty eerie and thought-provoking stuff. A messages-from-the-beyond type of thing. Believe me, it made the Sixth Sense seem like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Well, I was fascinated (if also a little spooked), and it struck me this guy’s story was better and more intriguing than anything I’ve ever read that dealt with similar topics. Essentially, I guess, it was a case of truth being stranger than fiction.

But the larger lesson, for me, I believe, was the realization that I need to look more to real life (and, in particular, at how real people tell the stories that make up their lives), as a way of learning more about the art of storytelling. Instead of reading yet another scholarly handbook on the writer’s craft, that is.

If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself. Next time you’re thrown together with someone you don’t know, trust in the fact that they have, at the very least, one amazing story they’re just itching to tell you, should you only just let them. And take my word, it’ll be better than anything you could ever possibly come up with, even if you were somehow capable of channeling both Edgar Allan Poe and Dostoevsky simultaneously. Consider it my money-back guarantee!

A copy photograph of the portrait painted by O...

A copy photograph of the portrait painted by Oscar Halling in the late 1860’s of Edgar Allan Poe. Halling used the “Thompson” daguerreotype, one of the last portraits taken of Poe in 1849, as a model for this painting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Trust Me, There’s Absolutely Nothing Ho-Hum About Being a Factotum!

On those few occasions when I have introduced myself as a writer to other people, one of the questions that has consistently been asked of me is whether I have a favorite word.

This, of course, isn’t the first question that people ask, obviously. That question would be “have you written anything I might actually have heard of or, better yet, perhaps read?” and it is usually delivered with a piggish snort of disbelief. Bitter? Not a jot…

Anyway, as to my favorite word, well, it’s currently factotum. Please note, though, this choice of word is subject to change, randomly and seemingly without warning on any given day. But for today, at least, it stands true.

The word roughly means a jack of all trades. And it also happens to be the title of a Charles Bukowski novel, evidently. I say evidently, because I haven’t read the book itself; although I have seen the film of the same name, starring Matt Dillon in the title role.

Ok, good. So, I first came across the word factotum, when I watched said film. It’s strange, because I would typically call myself a Bukowski fan, but I had never heard of this particular novel before. Largely, I suppose, I have tended to concentrate on Bukowski’s poetry. That’s my excuse anyway. However, I digress.

I guess why I like the word factotum, then, is because it seems to me to perfectly describe the lot of us writer types. Each of us needs to be a Jack or Jill of all trades, in order to do what we do.

In the film already mentioned, this concept is portrayed in a very literal sense, as Matt Dillon’s character drifts from one dead-end job to another. Essentially a semi-autobiographical account of Bukowski’s own hand-to-mouth existence as a struggling writer, it shows the kind of work we writers are often forced in to so as to pay the bills.

On another level again, I would argue the term factotum also very neatly encompasses the multidisciplinary nature of what it takes to be a successful writer. Namely, one must be: an astute observer of the human animal, a tireless researcher, a gifted wordsmith, an enchanting teller of tall tales, a chronicler of social foibles and ills, an antidote-providing physician for the very same social foibles and ills, a visionary of rare insight and a fearless self-promoter sheathed in rejection-proof rhino skin, to name but a few necessary accomplishments.

All of which leads me to tell you this – and I promise I’m in no way making this up – the next time someone asks me what it is that I do for a living I going to place my hand on my heart and proudly declare that I am a factotum of the very highest order. And if it pleases you, I would urge you to do the same, fellow factotum!

“My ambition is handicapped by laziness”
Charles Bukowski, Factotum

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski (Photo credit: Wikipedia)