Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Building With Words

Sometimes I build things with my hands, wooden constructions from utilitarian to what might loosely be described as artistic. I would characterize myself as an an advanced putterer or an amateur with low ambition. I find a satisfaction in building benches, bookshelves and the like because, unlike writing, there is a quantifiable end product.

Does my bookshelf hold books, are there streaks in the finish, is it level? If a bench falls apart when I sit on it, that means the bench is a failure. With splinters in your ass, it is impossible to tell yourself that you made a masterpiece. In other words, delusions for a carpenter, whether amatuer or professional, are nearly impossible to maintain with any credibility.

Not so with writing.

In my life, I’ve written some atrocious prose that stubbornly I believed was inspired. Now, I have never allowed the conceit of perfection to color my assessment of what I write, as I am far too critical of my skills to go that far, to imagine that I can produce a work that is Great. Yet, writing is such a personal pursuit that the failure of the words is a failure of the writer, the two so entwined it is impossible not to infuse, and confuse, meaning and worth where none exists, simply to avoid failure in one and thus proving the failure of the other. More simply, if my words stink, then I too, as the creator, stink.

Where I work when at work
With writing, it is impossible to pull out a ruler and say, yes, this sentence is exactly the length and dimension I need to support the next sentence which I have carefully measured as well. Certainly there are those writers who do write with a formula, who are successful with cookie-cutter novels that read like factory produced replicas only with a slight variation of color. I enjoy many such authors, in fact. But rarely do I ever remember anything particular about such books and still, even those mass produced series have an intangible essence that must come from the writer, independent of structure.

The essence of the writing can’t be forced upon a work just like with carpentry, where application of force destroys the final product every time. Lately with my writing, there has been far too much force, and with that, too many delusions that the end result is unaffected. There is a definite line between perfectionism and honesty, but I don’t think I’m being hyper-critical of my recent output.

If my writing were a bench, I would definitely have the need to pick more than a few splinters from a sore backside.

But Folks, frustration aside, I’m okay with the reminder: don’t force writing, a stubborn woodgrain or life. Take a deep breath and drive on.


C.E Foley-Henry said...

Brilliant read. Agreed it's frustrating when you feel the need to write at the end of the day forcing it out is not going to produce your best work :) I'm going through the same currently.

Jerry Waxler said...

Hey, neat. I think this is the first blog I've found that runs the way mine does, as a sort of personal magazine. Interesting! How's that working for you? Mine is a collection of essays about how to write memoirs and how to read memoirs like a memoir writer.

The other first is that it happens (surprisingly) to be the first I've found with creative non-fiction personal essays that are along lines of what I'm looking for. (Using the spirit of memoir, as I understand them, at a small scale.)

I hope to keep coming back How will I keep up with sprawling contacts? This is an actual question. :) I have to figure out if you have a feed but I can't even find your Facebook page.

Best wishes,
Memory Writers Network