Sunday, January 20, 2013

I Hate Writing

I had this boyfriend in college. I was 19 and he was 40. I know, I know -- but every college-aged guy I met was a giant brainless douchebag, and this guy was smart and funny and really cool. And a talented singer and guitar player. English dude. I met him at the Irish pub on Division Street, the one that let us in without ID. Though he could play the heck out of that guitar, when he was at home practicing and trying to work out a part, he'd get frustrated and yell "Argh! I HATE guitars!"

Well, I hate writing. And yes, with a somber nod to Ms. Parker, I hate writing, but alas, I love having written.

Am I even a writer, or am I just another one of those people who realized early in life, mostly thanks to murmered praise from English teachers, that we can put a few words together prettily and express ideas with some degree of panache? And so, armed with our tattered thesaurus and a lot of black clothing, we begin to envision a career as a writer.

If you are similarly endowed, then you know about this, about how we go through phases. There's the newly-pubescent self-reckoning phase, the primary result being endless reams of doodle-covered notebooks overflowing with rhymeless, maudlin poems, hopeless, wrist-to-forehead angst. Handwritten, of course, because most of this phase was accomplished whilst sitting under various trees and/or upon rocks, park benches and blankets on the ground.

There's the haughty, sniveling mimicry phase where we latch onto some classic author as though we're the first to find religion, and for awhile we push up our glasses and quote them, in our writings we copy their voice and literary devices. For me it was Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King, who had copied Edgar Allen Poe too.

Then there's the look-how-clever-I-am phase where we think we're the first writer to think of peppering our words with wacky devices. Signature drawings, ridiculous ink colors, avoidance of capital letters or punctuation.

But eventually we leave all that behind, we find a real voice and begin to churn out some decent prose. Then we spend half our lives daydreaming about writing the Great American Novel while those old notebooks and stories get boxed up and put away somewhere and, one day twenty years later, we remember how brilliant we were in our youth, pull them out and begin to feverishly read these piles of spiral-bound and fabric-covered tomes filled with...pure, utter, crap. Unreadable. Absolute rubbish. Whoever told us we could write must have been on drugs. Right?

Right? Oh come on, I'm the only one?

Everyone turns out clunkers, especially if you keep at it. Moreover, you kind of tend to try to fly before you earn your wings, and so when you go back to review later what you thought was your best work ever, you learn the word "cringeworthy." You know that part of “Looking for Mister Good-bar” when the teacher mocks and denigrates the story about the pilgrims in the boat, filled as it is with inaccuracies and laughable melodrama? Well, what the old masters have always said is true. Write what you know. If you think about it, what the hell do you know when you are eleven or fourteen or even twenty? Sure, you have stuff to say, stories to tell. But generally speaking, you lack the perspective to tell it in a universal way and the brains to know whether or not it just plain sucks out loud.

When I finally stumbled across the story I wanted to tell, it was practically delivered to me by the universe in a surge of nostalgia. This happened at the age of forty-two, in the summer of 2012. That's when I went to my twentieth college reunion. Somewhere between renting the car for the Boston-to-New York drive and the last goodbye hugs when my college friends parted on our last day together, I realized I had it.

I had The Story. I was gonna write a book.

I envisioned a movie made from my book. I even cast the movie in my mind and imagined how my incredibly witty dialogue would come to life in the faces and voices of the actors. In my mind I tweaked jokes and embellished story detail and came up with hilarious cut-scene scenarios. I grinned thinking of the inevitable laughs from my appreciative audience. I began to wonder about directing. I began to warm to the idea of a movie so much that for months I seriously pondered the idea of skipping the book part and just writing a screenplay. Even though I haven't got the first clue about how one goes about writing a screenplay.

I was eventually yanked back from fantastic daydreams of national book tours and literary fame. My reality check happened when I took a book out of the library – one of the eleventy-hundred tomes that exist filled with tips, all about how to get your novel published. I don't remember which one But I imagine that all such trade works aimed at would-be novelists offer the same sage advice fairly early on, lest we lose our heads.

It said “hold your horses, dude.” There's stuff you have to do before a screenplay, before a book tour, before contracts and handsome advances.

You have to write the damn book first.

It's hard.


I hate writing. But I love having written.