Pissing Matches, Machine Gun Enthusiasm, and a Secret Bonus Lesson from Joe R. Lansdale (hisownself)

I won’t post too much about writing process or the writing life (whatever that is). It’s a niche topic that can be both revelatory and also a time suck (sometimes simultaneously!). I’ve gone through feasts and famines periods with writing books, though I still think it’s of value to examine how you do what you do. I wish historians did this more. Historians tend to be very secretive and propitiatory about their process, almost like magicians hiding their bag of tricks (if only DC Watt would write a memoir of his experience translating caches of German foreign policy documents captured during the Second World War! That would be awesome).

Many writers of fiction are the reverse and want you to apply at their Hogwarts, or buy their Necronomicon. Lots do it because they’re also teachers at heart, with a genuine desire to “pay it forward” to the young apprentices out there. Some are talented at it and become boons to those putting in the time and effort to improve at a hard gig.  Some are lousy and just need a workshop check to supplement their income. And some take this teaching gig to the point to becoming gurus of literature, with fan bases that become dogmatic about a “school” or “approach” and defend their teachers  with dogma and often don’t think too critically after the mana has been handed out. Workshops are similar. They can be both invigorating and problematic, depending on the schools methodology, faculty, and student body. I know my time at Odyssey was incredible, tough, and helpful, and worth every penny and drop of sweat and sleepless night. I can’t recommend it enough. Others have had different experience, there or at Clarion. Mileage, as they say, will vary.

I say this because I don’t know at what stage a teacher becomes a guru, so I worry about sounding like the latter when I’ll only ever want to be the former. So, with that caveat, a reflection.

I went through a bad patch recently. Writing was tough. My normal “machine gun enthusiasm” that keeps me hopping was drying out. I was hearing a lot of bad news. Some friends and colleagues were giving up the ghost. Other stuff. Most bad patches are never one thing, but a series of conditions that compound and make it hard to write. Personal issues, health stuff, money worry, etc.

My specifics aren’t public consumption, but I wasn’t feeling too great about what I was doing each morning or evening, hammering the keys. I always try to work hard, but with fiction I sometimes fall for what I call the “Tough Guy Pissing Match.” All the tough guy calls to arms about never having writers block, always making daily word count, only the weak and un-anointed give up, etc. Sometimes, that’s the best medicine. Sometimes, you need to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.

And sometimes, it’s just grinding gears.

One of the hardest things for me to do when writing is stop and rest. I’m usually at my best when I’m running with the devil at mach 10. But everyone needs a break, everyone needs a moment to catch their breath. The problem was, when I did, my head filled up with much of the worry going around the writing world about books, bookstores, ebooks, the damned promised land future that awaits us, etc. Lots of heat, not much light. And it was infecting my enthusiasm for my daily efforts. Considering how much stock I’ve put into working hard and at a good clip, this also compounded the suck.

So I took a breather. I tried not to sweat it. Did some other stuff that needed done. And I remembered an essay I’d read, by Joe Lansdale, as part of the story notes in his collection WRITER OF THE PURPLE RAGE (still love that title). It was about the time he wrote “Bubba Ho Tep.” How, when he was starting to garner bigger success and get more opportunities, he started listening to bad advice, bad news, and wrote a novel he didn’t much care for because he was writing it for someone else, not himself, something he swore he’d never do. Lansdale had no problem writing toward the market, however. He’s a commercial writer, after all. But he felt like he’d been trying too hard to please others with his book, and not himself (just like Ricky Nelson sang about in “Garden Party.” Yes, I like Ricky Nelson and Black Flag. Deal with it.). There’s a section in the essay that has always rang true to me, on these topics. So I thought I’d share it.  Lots of others have said similar things, but Joe got his version to me first, when I was gorging myself on his great work:

“I don’t want to live in a Pollyanna universe, but I do know this. Love and enthusiasm for what I do has always carried me through, and I hope to goodness it continues to do so. And, hey, if that love and enthusiasm lead me to a Bestseller, I can deal with that. So my motto is the same as always. Be true to yourself. Do what you love and the good things in life will come to you. But don’t ask me for a loan.”

          Joe R. Lansdale

So, with a bit of a break, some new gas in the tank, I’m largely back to fighting shape.

The machine gun is loaded again.

Fire.

Advertisements

About ridlerville

Jason S. Ridler is a historian, writer, and improv actor. He is the author of A TRIUMPH FOR SAKURA, BLOOD AND SAWDUST, the Spar Battersea thrillers and has published over sixty stories in such magazines and anthologies as The Big Click, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Out of the Gutter, and more. He also writes the column FXXK WRITING! for Flash Fiction Online. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Ridler holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. He lives in Richmond, CA. Visit him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jason.ridler.56
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s