Thursday, July 10, 2014

Freezer Poetry Revisited

There's always an urge to write what's on your mind. You've got something eating at your brain and you've got to get it out on paper, man. The paper is your pedestal; the world is your pulpit. You're telling it like it is, enlightening the world on What's Really Important. You're going to take that stick, by gum, and beat shit up with it. You're on a mission.

This is almost always a terrible idea.

I think I've hit on this topic before in my post on the "power of not giving a shit." I call it "freezer poetry," in reference to the terrible, no-good, very-bad job I had during the summer of '96, where I spent much of my time being broke--physically, financially and emotionally--and mostly just sat around all day watching my life unravel.

I wrote down a lot of things back then which were on my mind. They were uniformly crap. I saved none of it because I burned it all in effigy a few years later when I came to my senses.

Also, I think I wrote it all on an aging Apple IIc and didn't feel like going through the rigmarole of converting from Appleworks on a 5.25" floppy drive to something more contemporary, such as Microsoft Works on 3.5" floppy storage, or whatever format my ancient System 6 Macintosh LC preferred to use.

It was bad, though. Uneven line-break non-rhyming poems written in trochee about the treacly quality of darkness. How life is a never-ending road of pain and heartbreak. Tortured metaphors comparing life in a warehousing job to...something. Just sheer, pants-shittingly awful crap.

The fiction was better, but only barely. It was before the internet really took off, so at the very least I'm spared the shame of cached websites.

Life is always like that, though. There's always something you're brooding over or worrying about or obsessed with. The thing is, writing is not passion. Writing can PRETEND to be passionate, but it is not. Writing thrives on objective decision-making and craft. It is very much a measure-twice/cut-once activity.

When you're in the throes of whatever, you're too close to make objective decisions. You write down all the things you wish you were saying to everyone involved (l'esprit d'escalier). You've got a magpie-eyed attention to detail to all the bits which are standing out to you in in your crack-headed obsession. Maybe you're jacked full of adrenaline. You fist-pump at the end of every sentence. You go on and on about all the bits that your monkey brain is convinced the world should damn well care about.

What you aren't doing is making objective decisions about your audience. You're not being economical with your words. You're pacing your writing to your own emotional needs and no one else's. You're writing to the choir, that imaginary one in your head who cheers you on Jerry Springer-style every time you bang out another line.

You're just too damn close to things.

I constantly try to watch out for these topics. Blog posts on how annoying I think meetings are. Short stories about mid-life crisis-ish topics, such as selling it all and going on permanent vacation, posts raving about whatever thing I've just discovered which I've decided is the new shiny.

Sometimes they slip through anyway. That's okay. You just need to watch out for the warning signs when you're about to shit freezer poetry all over the empty page.

Does this mean you can't write about shit that's important or that you care about? No, not at all. There'd be nothing worth reading if that's the case. You just have to stop and ask yourself about how close you really are to what you're writing.

If this means you just shit out a rough draft and then shelve it for a week so you can pick it up and laugh at how awful it is later, fine. If you have an objective third party who can read it and tell you that maybe you should go back to the drawing board or go for a walk or something, that's also fine.

Me, I try to shoot these things down in the planning phase. If I get an instant sugar rush off of an idea, that sort of instant "HELL, YEAH", that's a sign that maybe I'm a bit too close. If it's just a continuation of what I've been thinking all day, then that's also a sign. I'll write both down in my idea file and revisit them later, but I most assuredly won't blow them up into a full piece until I can view it in a cold Sunday-morning hate-the-world objective frame of mind.

In other news, I think this week is another short story week. Book's going well. I am DEFINITELY running way over word-count-wise and need to reign myself in.

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