STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
I’m not a natural writer. Upon entering college, I was required to take a remedial English class. I don’t know if it improved me any!
I dabbled with writing in my twenties. I wrote a couple adventure stories for myself. On a job, I edited a local union newsletter. After I left that job and was working for a commodity broker—the opposite end of the spectrum—I wrote an unsuccessful investment newsletter.
It was not until I’d hit my thirties that I became at all serious about writing. One afternoon I went browsing in a university library. Leafing through a few lifeless “literary” journals, I decided I could write better than that. I’ve been trying to do exactly that since.
In any endeavor, you have to know your strengths and weaknesses. I’ve not been satisfied with most that I’ve written, which is why I was happy letting others be “the writers” when I was running the Underground Literary Alliance. I was content putting out the occasional zeen.
I have many ideas about writing. About what good writing should look like. Making those ideas reality by creating something truly revolutionary, artistically, is trickier.
Now that I’ve started creating ebooks, I have a tendency to rush them along. For instance, I wrote most of The Tower one year ago in a two month burst of writing. Not long enough, in hindsight, for something that complex structurally, ambitious in theme and characterization. Living a tenuous existence where nothing is guaranteed, I feel the need, once I have the idea for an ebook, to get it out there as quickly as possible. No time for much rewriting, much less polishing.
My main weakness is description. I hate reading description (“detail disease”) and I dislike almost as much writing it. When I do write it, it’s invariably clunky. It’s something I plan to finesse, with some added ideas.
Back stories, exposition, I’m fine at. In many ways the story “Bluebird” contained in the ebook Mood Detroit is nothing but exposition. Someone recently, thinking he was putting me down, said that “Bluebird” read like a scenario. I’m fine with that, because the story was never much more than that. A treatment: an examination of a personality. A Jonathan Franzen, as in Freedom, can write 50,000 words of exposition and no one complains. The trick is how to integrate it into a larger work. I, no less than Franzen, have not fully mastered that part of the equation.
My two strengths are dialogue and ideas. I love writing speeches, because they allow me to express, through the mouths of characters, conflicting ideas. The human being speaking is the true wonder of nature.
I don’t buy the Henry James/David Foster Wallace theory of placing the narrative inside a character’s mind. Usually there’s nothing to see. Vacuousness. At its worst, narcissistic childishness.
I love spoken poetry. I’m also a fan of Shakespeare. The bard well proved that character is best revealed through action and speech. In The Tower, for all its faults, I take that notion as far as I’m able.