A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME, Amy Lowell, Bram Stoker, C.S. Lewis, Deerbrook Editions, Edmund White, Erica Jong, INTO THIN AIR, Jim Grimsley, Language poets, Martina Reisz Newberry, Stephen Hawking, Tee Corrine
While I am convinced in my own my mind that my sad stories are incredibly interesting to all, It is just not true. It is long past time, I think, for new writers to put aside their personal stories and write something that means something, will change something, will alter perceptions, make the world angry, or comforted, or annoyed. Ah writer! You suffered child abuse, spousal abuse, bad skin, flatulence, bullying, fatness, skinniness, stuttering, bad breath? The world doesn’t really care. Not very much anyway. Were you anorexic, a drunk, a drug addict, bi-polar, desperately ill, suicidal? Who wasn’t? Save it for when you’re famous and giving interviews. Look, the guy next door has a story that will see you yours and up the ante by triple and he’d much rather tell you his story than read yours.
Poems and stories have to be about something other than our sad, tired anecdotes. If your readers want horror, they can watch “Saw” I, II, and III for that. As Rick in Casablanca put it (and I think profoundly): …it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. They don’t amount to a hill of beans and, though they affected YOU, writer, they don’t do much to anyone else unless you can put a new spin on them that no one has thought of before.
So what is there to write about? Well, that’s the trick. We’ve got to see the words and music in a brand new way every single time we wake up in the morning. Not easy, sometimes nearly impossible, but if we are going to bring real art, real writing to anyone, it’s the way it has to be. Hemingway said: All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time. And he wrote words as if they were new. He created a new language out of the words we all thought we knew.
Any time this is a problem for you, go get a book or five books or…and read what the masters have done with language and subject. You can’t read C.S. Lewis‘ PERELANDRA trilogy and come out with your same old version of the world. You can’t sit down with Amy Lowell for 30 minutes and not see things differently. You can’t mud wrestle your way through the first six pages of Stephen Hawking’s A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME or follow Krakauer INTO THIN AIR or INTO THE WILD and not feel somewhat rearranged.
Want to write about sex? EVERYONE knows about smooth skin and pretty red lips, long hair, blahblahblah. Read Erica Jong or Tee Corrine or Edmund White, or Jim Grimsley if you want to experience some new ways of thinking about sex. Read LADY CHATTERLY’S LOVER, THONGS, Bram Stoker’s DRACULA, THE EYE, LOLITA. Then think about the sexual words and images you want to use.
We need to develop the discipline of seeing the world a new way with every every word on every page we write. We need to take self-portrait out of the mix until we’ve lived enough, seen enough, done enough to make it and ourselves interesting.