Monday, September 13, 2010

Presumption and Pretention

So for better or worse, there are some amazing authors out there who also happen to have (or have had) drinking problems. And depression. And have—in some cases—actually ended their own lives because of these things.

And of course, there’s a large minority of folks who buy into this mythology that these things are all the mark of a Great Writer.


Those are pretty serious problems. There’s nothing glorious about that mental destitution. What made those writers so brilliant was their ability to channel and structure the emotion they felt into narrative and plot. The vices were just jumbled, messy extras encroaching on their functionality as people.

An offshoot of this mentality are, I think, the inherent pretentions of some so-called writers. And here’s where I get up on my soapbox.

Wearing a fedora does not make you a writer.

Rhapsodizing about the torturous glory of the life of a starving artist while you sip your coffee laced with absinth or some such ridiculous thing for the sake of imagery does not make you a writer.

Bashing successful authors for their trite, plebian words does not make you a writer.

Getting shit-ass drunk and writing while totally wasted does not make you a writer.

I think the majority of people who think that this is what a writer does and acts like approach writing like a Pollock painting—just throw a lot of colors together, with a lot of rage and angst, and you’ll get art.


Writing takes thought. Control. Effort. Writing takes wiping the morning drool off your face and putting your butt in the chair. Writing takes words on a page, and structure, and beauty, and subtlety.

There are those cathartic, raw, emotive passages that seem to defy this advice, seem to bubble and burst out of the wellspring of the human psyche—and to some extent, this is true. But it takes a writer to shape that power into something so potent.

Because I’m a huge Led Zeppelin fan, I read and watch lots of interviews with Jimmy Page et al. So forgive me for this. But I respect him as an artist, because he’s brilliant, and he describes his approach to music as exploring “light and shade.”

To me, that’s what being a writer is. It’s not substance abuse or depression--or useless pretentions. It’s about uncovering something through the complexity of thought—through the light and shade of the human experience, the words and the shapes of the narrative, that world you c

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous21.11.10

    My second time around penning a NaNo novel, does that make me a writer?

    "Winning" the first time set me up to have another go.