I've been spending the last few months reexamining what writing means to me. The activity, the craft, the importance. In doing so, I have found my work becoming increasingly personal. I have experimented in various forms and techniques, from free associative sketching to regimented, outlined procedures, from pads and pens to typing in NotePad and beyond. I have created tools to help my own work, and further separated certain work from others, in an effort to section off parts of myself. What I have come to is a series of observations: some examining things that are wrong, some revelations that are evolutionary to me, and some that I feel just need to be written down. Because, as Stephen King said, there's no reason not to write. Everything in my original post on writing still stands. If anything, what follows here were my next steps from there.
the work as personal
All creative work is personal, even nonfiction, though we find various ways to hide ourselves within it. A lot of writers waste more energy enforcing "ignore me, I'm just the author" when they should be using that force to focus on "here's what I have to say". Some of my favorite writers are so on top of their game because they know how to be in control of their act as writers. You, as a writer, should be the last thing you worry about, at least as it comes across on the page.
If the internet has proved anything, it's that the voice of the writer, in order to be truly heard, must command words and form in ways that are increasingly immeasurable. The strong voices stand out because they realize they're in an endless sea of shitty bloggers, and they realize that not necessarily being louder results in being better. Rather, striving for a content uniqueness and comfort-of-self is the true path to a good writer. Content uniqueness, (as in to be content, rather than the content of the writing,) being the ability to stand behind one's work, embedding within it the uniqueness of one's perspective, while understanding that it is very difficult to be unique among millions. Be content in what uniqueness you can grasp onto, and stop worrying about it. Just fucking write! Maybe don't publish it, that's where editing comes in, but you will find that the agency of writing becomes easier as you get more comfortable being yourself as a writer.
I wrote about that before: the ability to find your muse and learning how to softly guide that muse to work for you. Make some tea and sit by the fire for a session of divine inspiration. After awhile, you will find that your muse is always there, and what was limiting you was never anything but your own apprehension and self-doubt. (Please note that you always need self-doubt and apprehension, but in controlled amounts. I will explain later.) One could say that eventually, instead of gently rousing your muse from its slumber and humbly asking it for help, you come to the point where your muse becomes subservient to your ego. You can kick it around a bit, and not feel too bad about it. I'm not saying you should abuse it; I'm saying you should experiment with it. Bondage, S&M, that kind of thing, but never forget to respect that which once was so hard to come by. Sometimes you need to take what would normally be a flash of incredible inspiration and turn it against itself. There was a time when I would have one of those brilliant A-HA! moments, begin writing, and not look back. Now, if I have the sudden need to write something, I first question it. What is it that I'm suddenly finding so important to say? Where does it stem from? What emotion, what event, what acted as a catalyst?
You soon discover that your work, at the root of it, is deeply personal. When picking my subject matter, I often do so because someone has said something or written something that I disagree with. And being the good blogger that I am, why not start a website to hate on them. Now I've come to a bizarre circle: I hate on them, I hate on me, and I hate on the cycle itself. It makes for great fodder, as you're reading now. But regardless, the greatest writers in the world admit to being "set off" by simple stimuli like movies, songs, people. There's nothing wrong with that, but it helps to gather a deeper understanding of why those things set you off. What is it, exactly, that I'm hating on? Is it a product of something else? Is it motivated as a response, or as a consideration? Should I write a letter to someone, or write a letter about them? Can these different forms be manipulated into speaking more than the content of words themselves? (This is why the study of form in poetry is especially useful.)
Anyway, all writing is intimate, whether it's a post on a blog or a tweet or a novel. The writer is letting us peek into their psyche, and we as readers can never really know how much of it is intentional, accidental, appropriated, or autobiographical. We should never know; that level of intimacy is difficult to achieve. What I can tell you is that it should always be a mix of those four things. Allow yourself to make mistakes, even if they're as simple as a typo. If you leave it in there, it may inform the rest of the work in interesting ways you never would have considered. Along that same line, the more you know about where your thoughts are coming from, the more you can intentionally incorporate their influence. This is most evident through hyperlinking, and I do it often. Writers like T.S. Eliot did hyperlinking before such a thing even existed by saturating their work with allusion. Now, like then, our work as writers is informed by countless media, from oral to visual to hypertextual. Exploring, exploiting, and even revealing these influences only makes you a better writer.
Expose yourself within your words, whether it's through word choice or declarative sentences. I'll agree with your high school english teacher in saying that you shouldn't begin your sentences with "I think", but it is useful to admit things, think out loud, and let them weave a story in your paragraphs. Every time you read anything, you're going on a journey with the writer. You go as far as you're interested in going. Reading is one of the few truly active forms of media. The distance between abstraction and meaning, as Scott McCloud would put it, is huge. It's one of the first intellectual things we learn to do: spoken and written language. Every word you speak and write is picked as carefully as you are able to pick it, and every word you hear and read is equally understood as carefully as you have learned to know it. The simple act of turning a page or scrolling down in a window is more active than a video or a song. Take advantage of the fact that you may have a reader who is willing to actively turn the page, and don't take it for granted. Of all the great writers I've ever read, a universal theme is "don't use a big, complicated word when a small, simple one will do". I could not agree more, because it does not just resonate with your word choice, but with your attitude as a writer, and how you wish to address your audience (if it isn't already clear through your jargon, if you use any).
Regardless of word choice, though: expose yourself and don't be afraid to. In my generation we're used to exposing ourselves in extremely controlled ways through our profiles and our status updates and our tweets: break away from that and go further in longer forms. Don't bother exposing yourself in a fucking tweet. There is nothing more degrading to the condition of the human mind than yet another status update that says "I broke up with my girlfriend and I feel terrible" or "my grandfather died and I'm sad". You should have more to say than that, and be willing to explore such avenues of expression. You've turned real, tangible, revelatory feelings into a sound byte or a billboard. Some would say to this: get a diary, then, and write in it. Well, that's not a bad goddamn idea. Everybody should have a journal. (I don't -- I have a couple blogs instead.) But as you master the ability to express yourself in a written form, or if you already write a lot, begin working your self into your writing. Don't be afraid of making it public if you think the work really represents you. Conquer yourself and your expression.
Which leads me into what I've discovered to be the birth-and-death of authorship, and the abstraction of the self through written language. In becoming more personal with my work, the more simple it becomes to move beyond that which I write out, in ways that are beyond what would normally constitute just "talking it out with someone". Everyone has felt the immeasurable weight that is lifted when you talk out your feelings with someone. But imagine, while saying them, that you are actively no longer becoming those feelings. It goes beyond a mere lifting-of-weight and becomes a transformation. And it goes beyond mere diary/journal writing, in whatever form that takes, in that the act of editing and understanding your own text for potential publication is an act of pruning and defining your self as much as can be expressed with words. The more personal your work and the more you master the authorship of that work, the more those parts of you are being destroyed and reborn as you write and publish it. The words you read now are of someone who was, not someone who is. You can read this and know not me, but who I was at the time of this writing. While this act of personal rebirth is indeed inherent with all persons in time, that simple "growing up" is not necessarily a revelatory act of self-curation, as is the pursuit of all true self-expression, whether it's found in writing or painting or whatever. The mastery of self is only found in the ways in which we examine, live, and expose the self. I do not believe you can truly know yourself through thought or speech alone. Thought, like speech, is temporary at best, and the game changes when you have the increased permanence of written information. It is sublime in its banality and subtlety. It's not necessary to really consider it every time you write as much as it's necessary to just appreciate and understand it.
on ambiguity and responsibility
The obvious problem of exposing yourself are the issues of personal ambiguity and your responsibility for your audience. Of course, this is why journals are typically kept secret; or in my generation's case, it's embarassing when someone finds your livejournal from junior high. While the pursuits and agendas of your audience are entirely outside of your control, you must maintain complete command of your own responsibility to your own personal truth. That's all you can really do, and reasonably be expected to do. Personal truth and the lens through which you expose that truth are the keys to being able to focus yourself in ways that are beneficial to yourself while informing your work and not disrespecting your reader.
Ambiguity is your best friend and worst enemy. On your end: ambiguity means you don't have to overtly reveal what it is you're talking about. Ambiguity is a form of vaguely plausible deniability. But it's also a mechanism for bringing the personal into something generic, so if the personal doesn't really matter and you readily reveal it, the subtext could actually be quite deeper. You can write about your dying grandfather and really be touching on deeper issues of patriarchal shame, family malcontents, or an allegory for a failed relationship in another part of your life. "Ambiguity", in the sense that I'm using it here, does not so much mean obfuscating facts as much as clouding intention. Ambiguity is letting interpretation matter more than plot. When you write about a man killing someone, you should never be writing about murder. That's an elementary example, but regardless, your power as a writer is within all things written and unwritten. Reading through the notes and edits of another author can potentially open your eyes to a piece because you can see what they took out, withheld, or shortened.
For some of your readers, purposeful ambiguity will show that you're hiding something. After awhile for them, or immediately to the discering reader, your ambiguity shouldn't matter. Your words, if they are strong, whether personal or not, should reflect a tone, an emotion, a theme. When I write in a vague stream-of-conscious manner, I'm rarely writing about whatever is being written. Or rather, as I said before, that which is being written only serves as metaphor for something else. The job of the reader, if they don't already find the work enjoyable, is to respect that distance if they feel such distance exists. Our minds, when processing what we're writing, work through association and purposeful disorientation. No memory is perfect and there's good reason for it, and using that fact to one's advantage when writing is a similarly informative act to the reader. The color of our lives are within such vague terms. It's hard to write about, and it's harder to write about such things concisely in a manner the reader could understand.
Your responsibility for this, on the other hand, is mixed. In most cases, I just crash my way through certain barriers and worry about responsibility later, though it's a practiced illusion of discord. This is rather isolating: some people will understand immediately, others will shun it. Misinterpretation runs rampant, but I have always found that mixed reviews can be a wonderful experience. Something my father reads illicits one response, while my girlfriend reading it gathers an opposite one. There's nothing more informing to one's work than that. Use it, and ask yourself: how could I have written it in a way that would've gotten the same reaction from both readers? Did I want the same reaction from both audiences? What does it mean about them -- not just me -- that they reacted so differently? The context of our language is vital to our sociality; no one under 20 wants their parents to see their raw Facebook feed. Why is that?
Furthermore, I enjoy the idea of letting yourself feel something, whether it's as the writer or the reader. Let that emotion bleed onto the page. As Francis Ford Coppola said: "Use everything. Whoever you are in that moment, let that be you." Go ahead and abstract it if you want, but at least don't try to stifle it. If you're mad, and you think you have the right to be mad, then be mad. If you're in love, then love, whether you're the writer or the reader. Emotional honesty is important, especially if you want to come to terms with the personality of your writing, if you're able to live with the consequences. Again, the intelligent reader should understand the context of this. There is always a context: do not be lost in the singularity of a feeling. This is the benefit of the subjective, and key to the birth-and-death of authorship I explained before. The person you're reading, if the work is personal, is no longer truly that person anymore. They're not a wholly new person, but you should not approach them as if they never wrote it.
In this sense, being concise can be destructive, because it breeds misunderstanding when paired with ambiguity. My own conciseness has perhaps cost too much of my readers at times, and made my points terse and aloof. There are tradeoffs to every technique and trope of writing. However, brevity has its uses (beyond Twitter) in that it seems to place more work on the reader than the writer, much the same way ambiguity can. Do not use a complex sentence when a simple one will do. Don't elogate your prose to the point that it becomes masturbatory. (Most likely I am guilty of this, here.) That having been said, objectivism is the death of the personal. Become objective when you want to step back, but do not make it your modus operandi, because it's boring. Objectivism is the death of poetry and beauty.
the vanity of writing
Yes, the writing I'm talking about is very vain. Making all writing personal is extremely vain, and encroaching your personal life into the work you put out may seem very vain to your readers. However, the act of doing so is also tragically in vain: because you can never truly write anything that really expresses the self. You can come close, you can be happy with it, but of course it never is really you. That's the way it should be. All creative self-expression is the tragedy of vanity meeting the limits of its own articulation.
Furthermore, the balance of this vanity is best found within the opposing nature of you as writer versus the "other" as reader. The craft of writing is manipulating that gap between what you convey and what your audience responds to. Sometimes it's easy, most of the time it's not. Filling your paragraphs with declarative statements is simple, but it makes for a boring tale that nobody really wants to read. Part of the journey of making something worth reading is being able to write in whatever fashion you feel you can, whether it's personal or not, and then forging those raw patterns of language into something that can be understood by another. There is nothing more demanding of sociality than that. Finding the balance, whether through ambiguity or conciseness or whatever, is the ultimate task of a writer.
I suppose even more fundamental is the reasoning behind writing itself. Ask yourself: why are you writing? Or maybe better yet, why aren't you writing? I write because I find it relaxing, focusing, and it brings me closer to certain people while bringing me closer to myself. Writing has been one of the few constants in my life. Everybody needs some kind of creative outlet, and writing is mine. The healthy self is sharpened by the expression brought forth by that creative outlet, until it becomes an obsession or a crutch, which everyone should try to prevent. In our current age, I don't know at what point expression becomes a crutch anymore. I think maybe we are all using too many crutches. If you habitually update your Facebook or Twitter feeds not because you have anything to say but because you're used to doing it, you should probably take a break. Many thoughts should be written down, but not all of them need to be published.
At the end of the day, I like to tell people: write it for you, edit it for them. No matter how personal you make your work, there will always be the separation. You can never read your own work as someone else would; appreciate and respect that, but have hope that your reader understands the same. You should probably still edit it as if they don't appreciate it, though, unless you get comfortable enough with an audience that you may not feel the need to. But that could also get you into trouble with them and with yourself. Worry about that later. If you read and write every day, words become breath. If I could go back and tell myself anything when I was a younger writer, it would be to learn how to edit, and be patient, before thinking something is done.
Lastly, the best compliment you can give to a writer is to write about them. That, in itself, is a very vain statement, but it's true. Some tremendous sources of insight about influential writers are the letters they sent to each other and to their friends about writing. The strongest thing you can do, as a reader, is to give back to those you are reading, or to talk to your friends about the writing itself if you wish to become a better writer. The nuggets of wisdom you find are most often very simple and deeply personal.
Write more. Read more.