Lots of writers write about writing, I see it every day. I’m not one of them and never will be. I find the exercise a bit self-indulgent to be honest.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not reflective about my writing. Quite the contrary, that’s the problem- I could write about writing till the cows come home. And that doesn’t mean I don’t read what others write about writing- I do daily and with great interest. But if I spent my time writing about writing that would leave less time to write about everything else.

It’s the everything else I’m after.

Why do I bring it up?  Well the other day a mere acquaintance of mine had a real “issue” with me, saying I’m not “open to constructive criticism”. Those were her exact words and she said them with a strong sense of conviction and a throwing up of the hands.  Now I have to make a disclaimer here: I fancy myself and the evidence shows that I’m a writer of the “loon” variety. You know, a bit touched in that Hemingway kind of way? Tolstoyesque?  Writing makes me sick most of the time and it owns me and keeps me up at night and if you ask how I am today it will be directly linked to what I’ve written and how I feel about it and what I’m working on at the moment. To say I’m consumed is an understatement. It’s more like “defined”.

But a good writer oughta be right?

Not that I could compare to Hemingway or Tolstoy.

So the mere acquaintance was talking. And she did lots of that. I know nothing of what she’s written except she’s a big fan of Haiku. I despise Haiku.  Hey if you write Haiku, please don’t take it personally. Not everybody can love everything, right? I guess the question is whether I value her “critique”.  I mean, she hardly knows me. It was obvious she’d only skimmed me, if that. I can tell if someone’s actually read me, believe me.  No one in this world can make any determination of anyone’s writing (or any other) talent by a mere skimming, and I’ve an easily accessible ocean of material is the case. I know her angle as she’s of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing crowd, which generally is about as establishment and risk-averse and conventional as they come. This mere acquaintance expected my rapt attention to her generous words, and she quickly jumped into a laundry list of odd pronouncements about what I’m doing and should be doing and must do in order to be successful.  Success as she defines it of course.

I never asked.

But certainly was polite. “I just write” was my response and “Nah I have my own method” is what I said and “I go wherever my right brain takes me”- that sort of thing-nothing that sounded the slight bit credible really, even to my own ears. For conversation’s sake I brought up a book that I’m reading that I happened upon in the library the other day. It’s called The Art of Readable Writing by Rudolf Flesch and it’s like from the late forties or something (leave it to me). I proceeded into a discourse about how anything any writer learned in school ought to be forgotten and to go with Flesch and strive to be sloppy and open and loose in sentences, thoughtfully inconsistent with punctuation, not pay much mind to sentence fragments, and to write more like people naturally speak (that’s the gist of it anyway).  The goal is a certain originality and “plain talk” and a lack of self-consciousness which I thrive at (laugh here please). If you’ve noticed how unruly this essay is then my job here is done. I’ve learned so much from this guy Flesch and he’s confirmed a lot of what I’m doing and where I’m going right now.

The acquaintance was glazed over.

Hey, have you played slots? You know, like in Vegas? I don’t go much for that whole casino scene really, but I do love my slot machines!  I understand why people become gamblers, I mean hard-core gambling addicts. When I play slots I sit there indefinitely and don’t even get up to go to the bathroom. I forget to eat. I don’t know what time it is or how much time has elapsed. You could scream in my ear and I won’t hear you. A bomb could go off next to me and I’d still pull that lever. Get it?  Of course Vegas is great cause they bring you drinks without even asking!

Playing slots is something like my particular life as a writer, minus the drinks (unfortunately).

I need the restroom as we speak.

But onward. This acquaintance is typical of many I encounter.  I don’t mind “constructive criticism”, although if I have no idea who you are, what you’ve written and whether I like it, what  work of mine you’ve read, plus if you don’t at all ask about or have an interest in my motivation and intent, I have very little vested in hearing you.  Ought I? Especially when the “advice”  is about the rules of structure or punctuation or creating outlines or a “process”  or something of that ilk. I’m very generous with myself and give myself a long leash when it comes to missteps and faux pas, as my main goal is simply that what I write to be readable enough to the average person (and that includes me). Lots of folks read my writing daily and most say nice things and some not so nice, and in the grand scheme of things I don’t pay it much mind.

I’m not in this for ego.

I write to get better and only my determination will get me there, not some sort of Freudian validation. Critique, good and bad, is just part of the territory. Personally, my only real measurement is whether I’ve done my best to communicate what I intend to communicate and whether or not I like it myself, which encompasses way too much to get into here. I detest so much of what I write believe me, like this current piece of rubbish you’re reading.  As a “critic”, if you don’t embrace my work to some degree there’s no value in poking holes in it, is there?  I mean, show me the value in that! Critique is not solely a personal opinion nor exclusively subjective and ought to help the person on the receiving end grow. There’s a context and breadth to it.  I very often give my thoughts to other writers, and do so when I feel I’ve been thorough and respectful enough in trying to get to the heart of what they want to say. It ain’t casual.  If you’re simply a writer “hobbyist”, of which there are many and many good ones too, more than likely you can’t relate or know what to make of me or my stuff. Or like it either. That’s more than okay.  Kind of like me and Haikus. Anyway I spend so much of my time each day and night learning and studying and growing in my own craft, and most of it while you’re asleep. That’s my MFA.

I didn’t say that to the acquaintance but it sounds good no? I mean the “while you’re asleep” part?

So anyway yeh, I get a bit emotional I’ll admit. Well, more like incredulous. Writing is a very lonely existence although the rewards are greater than anything. But think about it- you spend way too many hours alone stuck only inside your own head! If you haven’t tried it, I’m not sure I recommend it. I’ve had enough egg on my face in my day, but still feel vulnerable when I discuss it. I hope you can see why I don’t go on about it much nor have a need to. It’s a neurosis of the first degree.

We’ve all got something.

My poetry book is with the publisher and being printed as we speak. The fact that I submitted to a publisher who said “Yes, we’d love to do your book” is an accomplishment in and of itself. I’m not necessarily pleased as punch or over the moon at all. I view it as a necessary milestone and par for the course for where I’m at in my own development. I have told a select group of people about it, and their first or second question is “Can I buy your book on Amazon?” How strange. Nowadays is that how one measures the success or credibility of a writer? Whether or not they can be “bought” on Amazon?

No wonder so many self-publish!

Don’t get me started on THAT subject. I guess in summary, as this diatribe has meandered like a river after a winter thaw and won’t happen again anytime soon, it’s like Capote wrote in the preface to Music for Chameleons, which happens to be part of my own personal scripture:  “One day I started writing, not knowing that I had chained myself for life to a noble but merciless master. When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended solely for self-flagellation. It stopped being fun when I discovered the difference between good writing and bad, and then made an even more alarming discovery: the difference between very good writing and true art: it is subtle, but savage. After that, the whip comes down!”

Yeh, so that.



21 thoughts on “SELF-FLAGELLATION

  1. Good for you Pete. I’m not really a writer but I do appreciate the notion of thinking outside convention, which to my mind means not always listening to so-called experts (by the book academics) and instead thinking for myself. If I took seriously every person who told me I was wrong about everything, I would have never been right about anything.

  2. I’ve never read a piece of writing, loved it, and thought to myself, “you know what was great about that piece? The punctuation, baby. The awesome sentence structure was absolutely soul capturing…” I suppose I might unconsciously dislike something if I had trouble following due to poor grammar, but it would have to be pretty bad to distract me. I just like writing that gleams a picture.

    • Yeh me too I try to look through all of that. It’s just so funny how some more “pedigreed” types are just LOOKING for something, I guess they need to flex their English Teacher muscles haha Better to get to the heart of things. Thanks buddy and I like your punctuation haha

    • That’s what’s important, at least to me. It’s not you or me or what we do or don’t do. It’s capturing what’s out there when we let take off our egos. Thanks and nice sermon today! Not bad for writing it when, last night at midnight or this morning before you got there? haha

  3. Wow Pete, some serious stuff there, I share your views on this, writing is for its own sake, it’s an expression not a commercial endeavour, but that doesn’t mean the two don’t overlap at times. Think you do have a gift and glad that you’re staying with it, the sell-outs outnumber the artists you know. As for haikus… I’m with you there. I just don’t get em really.

    • Eh not so serious, just the 4AM thing working overtime. 🙂 Yes, it’s a craft and that’s really all I’m concerned about. And haikus haha well, I think I’ve said my peace on those (although I do like and write senryu). Thanks Canuck, hope all is well up there!

  4. Heya Pete! My comment would be, if someone doesn’t ask for advice or critique, then don’t give it. I belong to a pretty stringent writer’s critique group. If I wanted it elsewhere, I’d ask. Personally, I wanted my blog to appeal to writers and NON-writers alike. That’s why I don’t write about writing very much. Plus, most of my writing (thus far) has been life experience stories, so that’s how I themed my blog. Didn’t mean to go on. I just happen to find writing a blog about writing a little boring. I prefer to read the actual writing, like yours. I appreciate your poems and stories. And btw, not a fan of haiku either. 😉

  5. There are so many parts of this I love. You’re a master in originality and authenticity. And more. You’re being published… whatevs…AND….EFF-ing FABUOUS!! Mere acquaintance’s (we all have them) should sometimes take a flying leap, or perhaps a leap of faith, towards a different portal to discovery and art. GOOD FOR YOU!!

    • Aw you’re so nice, thanks! Yeh I don’t like to let people rub me the wrong way but sometimes they really are just so clueless. 🙂 Thanks again Jenni

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