Monday, October 22, 2007

Writers, Authors, Squiggilers And Vonnegut

Those who know me, and some of the long-time readers here at Cobwebs Of The Mind, know that since I read "Slaughterhouse Five", oh so many years ago, I was a fan of the now deceased Kurt Vonnegut. A big fan. Over the years, though some of his statements did border on the outrageous (we are all allowed a flap now and then) reading Vonnegut became something akin to an addiction. So I am going to sprinkle this post with just a bit of Vonnegut - simply because I can. Statements like this from his work "The Sirens Of Titan":
"A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved."
As writers or authors or squiggilers (I made up the word so sue me!) we become obsessed at times from going to blog to forum to blog to web site trying to gleam that one piece of information that will help us get our message through in that horrendous, stupefying devil's creation known as the query letter. Or once we are free of the devil's backside in the query, and then we made our proposal or sent in those first few chapters or pages, and then we are asked for a "partial", and then we are asked for a "full"... Goodness gracious, you guys know the routine. Often we are ready to swear the system was created by a bunch of business people who got high and drunk all at once - and figured out a way to destroy any writer's dreams.

But of course, it is not the case. We all know that it is true that 90% or should I say even 99% of the stuff written out there (cause that is the sad truth), is just not worth killing those poor trees for. So we have our sifters and our witches; our demons and our torture chamber. We submit those queries, we spend hours on the Internet and with our head buried in the plethora of books - telling us how to write, when to write, where to write and the worst sin of all - what to write about.

I have noticed an explosion in such books written by people whose names, which my lack of culture, erudition, knowledge and finesse, I am totally unfamiliar with. There are so many people telling us how to write and what to write - and making big bucks off of our desire to just plain write. We are most assuredly one of the biggest, most sucker-oriented "self-help" market that exists. And I'll be damned - but 99% of those books telling me how to write are written by people who have the "How To Write Book" as their first publication credit in the world of writing.

So why do we write? The odds are against us - hell we may as play the slot machines in Vegas with better hope of at least winning something! Of course the Vonnegut-ian answer to this is as follows (from an Interview with Robert Scholes, October 1966):
"Well, I've worried some about, you know, why write books...why are we teaching people to write books when presidents and senators do not read them, and generals do not read them. And it's been the university experience that taught me that there is a very good reason, that you catch people before they become generals and presidents and so forth and you poison their minds with...humanity, and however you want to poison their minds, it's presumably to encourage them to make a better world."

Here is a famous seven point writing plan from Vonnegut (quoted in Science Fictionisms (1995), compiled by William Rotsler):
  1. Find a subject you care about.
  2. Do not ramble, though.
  3. Keep it simple.
  4. Have the guts to cut.
  5. Sound like yourself.
  6. Say what you mean to say.
  7. Pity the readers.
Yes pity the readers and don't take pity on yourself. Write but understand that not every word is gold (only mine are!) And understand that if you have this addiction and are stupid enough to want to deluge the world with your writing - it is going to usually be a long, hard and very lonely road out there. You know you are not alone, and you should never think you have been abandoned. Perhaps you will never become an author, but never believe you are alone.
"Still and all, why bother? Here's my answer. Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone."
See why I love Vonnegut?

What we do often forget, is that our own knowledge and perhaps skill is actually enriched when we read. What a thought! Reading! No, I did not say writing, and I don't mean any "self-help turn yourself into a writer in 30 days or your money back" mumbo-jumbo. I mean READING. (Argh! Did I scream that word?)

True there are so many books out there how do we decide to spend our $20 or so a month on books. Or maybe it is $100. Or maybe even $1000. Even $1000 a month will not keep you up to date or allow you to find the books you would want to read!

The Internet is a gem at times. At other times it sucks, totally completely sucks. But I discovered - yes, I am Columbus and of course no one knows a thing about this - I discovered a very engaging set of web pages, hidden mind you, and only I have the key, at the New York Times. There, if you manage to wade through the New York Times Book Review (don't deny it - you read it and fantasize about the day when you will see your book reviewed there!), there is a section called "First Chapters". Guess what that is? Well, I will keep the surprise to myself, and you can click over to it and enjoy.

In the end though, most will continue to plug away - writing and editing, cutting and changing, query lettering and partial submitting and praying.

Here are two Vonnegut quotes for you:
"I think it can be tremendously refreshing if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature so far. Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak."
"Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college."
And no, you cannot get away with calling a semicolon a transvestite hermaphrodite. Only Vonnegut can make that sound totally right!

So you squiggle away. You write. You think of yourself as an author. You fantasize when you go on-line to Amazon seeing your book on that best-seller list. You work hard at it. You sweat. You seek encouragement but you will exist on tea, coffee and cigarettes without human contact if you have to. You say to yourself these are the dues one must pay. And you may be right.

You even become your characters. You laugh and cry with them. They say things that make you ROFL - ("roll on the floor in laughter", for you non Internet junkies. Sheesh where have you been living?) You become those squiggled characters. Pretend somehow crosses the line between what is on your computer screen or in your notebook and what your reality is. Maybe you LOL ("laugh out loud") or LMAO ("laugh my ass off") suddenly without any reason at the dinner table and your spouse and kids or parents are seriously beginning to think you need therapy. Beware! As Vonnegut put it so well:
"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be."
So take this advice. Take it seriously. Stop. Go read something. Walk outside and breathe the air. Get off the computer! Yep that is right. YOU - OFF THE COMPUTER NOW! Go to your book store and browse. And if someone starts up a conversation and asks you what you do for a living or for a hobby - make up something - anything - just don't say "I am a writer". Forget that is what you do for a few minutes or hours. Buy a book. Curl up on the couch and read. Or better yet - get the biggest damn ice-cream cone you can put down in one sitting, and lick away.

In an interview by David Brancaccio, NOW (PBS) (7 October 2005) Vonnegut had this to say:
[Vonnegut tells his wife he's going out to buy an envelope]

Oh, she says well, you're not a poor man. You know, why don't you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I'm going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don't know. The moral of the story is, is we're here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don't realize, or they don't care, is we're dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we're not supposed to dance at all anymore.
And while you are eating that ice cream or reading your new book, or just enjoying the feeling of the air on your face and knowing how wonderful it is to be alive, and you assured that you are about to spread your wings - always remember:

Oh! I almost forgot - here is a great Vonnegut quote for you!

"Humor is a way of holding off how awful life can be."

(Thanks go to WikiQuotes for the Vonnegut quotes.)

Posted On: Cobwebs Of The Mind


Mamashares said...

Ok...I have to confess that my introduction to Vonnegut was as a result of a desire to keep up with the times...per se. I heard about Slaughterhouse 5 in the movie Footloose...yes I'm embarrassed, but it prompted me to read it as a child and I am all the more literary savvy because of it. Just thought I'd share.

marry said...

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