Sunday, January 07, 2007

On Writing, or: Hack’s Truths

On Writing, or: Hack’s Truths
Daniel Johnstone, interviewing (recording) Joseph Harmsburg, noted author and, the interviewer notes, promising wino.
Josh MacLeod

Writing is channelling. Waiting here for voices, wonders, marching bands through dreams sleeping and waking. The muses whispering in a chorus, sometimes in Greek until we get he channel right, turning noise to signal, watching our test patterns dissolve into meaning, evolve into something --
          Shit, boy. Don’t write that stuff down. I was just being pretentious. I do that, after a few drinks. You wanted to know about ideas, right? Where they come from, where they go? That one there, those words: from a song. Nothing’s original, not unless it’s a bunch of drek no one can understand. You don’t know what drek means? Trash. Crap.
          Being a writer is knowing shit like that and desperately finding a use for it. And here’s you, asking me that stupid question, as if I have some magical answer for you.
          You want magic? Good luck. Go and try get a fart from a dead man, and let me know. I don’t know if magic’s anywhere, except where we never look. The obvious things. Birth. Death. The moment between. You know, life.
          Everyone keeps asking: “Hey, Joe, where did you get that idea from?” when they aren’t suing me, saying I stole it from them. And what if I did? Ideas are cheap. Anyone can have them. It’s the execution that matters. Try telling that to a lawyer; you won’t get very far. No, not very far at all. So I lie.
          I lie for a living, so this shouldn’t be anything new. I lied to my wife, when I told her I loved her, when I said I thought our baby was mine. I lied when I said I’d be there for her, when that thing we had that can’t even feed itself. I’m good at lying, but crap at deception. I can’t deceive myself, though the Lord knows I’ve tried.
          (Speaking of Him, ever heard the writer’s prayer? ‘O father, who hath wrote a book.’ Funny, until you realize it was all dictated. Poorly at that.)
          Every day, I wake up. Look in the mirror. And I see my face and no one else.
          Being a writer is like everything else, if you want honesty. We all tell stories. We all lie, and make shit up. Sometimes we even make up. It’s a job. I’ll let you in on a secret about it: real writers don’t get writers block. They write for a living. They can’t afford it.
          You don’t hear of carpenter’s block, of auto-mechanics block (“Sorry, I can’t fix your car. I’m blocked today.”) It’s only the unpublished or the prima donnas who get “blocked”. The rest of us just work through it. Don’t look at me kid; you asked.
          All these writers will give you jokes, about where ideas come from. They come from assholes like you. I’ll do a story, some day, about you asking me questions. Or someone like you. Some character will have bits of you - you’re stupid plastered grin, say - and you’ll never know.
          Writing is like rape, it’s theft. We steal from everyone else, and then snicker whenever anyone claims we’re "original" or "unique". No one’s that. We’re just telling stories kid.
          We’re just giving the old tales new faces. That’s all.

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