How safely fashionable self-crowned experts are in their advice. But fashion is not truth. They go to different parties.
“Writing rules.” Give me a break.
If there is one truth–and there isn’t–I’ll take Kafka’s:
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.
And if you don’t have the courage to be the axe and destroy yourself, FINE. I get it. I lack courage all the time too, and I destroy myself despite it on some days, and prowl around the outskirts on other days, too afraid I lack what I need to go underwater.
But don’t repeat rules as if… as if there were any.
Flaubert broke every last rule when he wrote Madame Bovary. He went to court for it. To court!
I throw at you something his prosecutor said, which may be the single most evocative thing a prosecutor has ever said in court:
History has spoken of a thousand things, but these are merely suspicions.
Apropos of nothing, just because it’s beautiful, I share it with you. And now Yeats, from The Second Coming, on something a lot like talking heads:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
God, I loathe posing.
I guess because it never actually struggles with commodified reality–it’s only someone’s fist tightly, whitely gripping onto their rung of a hierarchy. It is an unstable thing, pretending to itself that it is right. That it is safe, for that reason.
Writing isn’t safe. When has any honest, intimate human expression ever been safe? We take risks when we share our hearts. Risks when we share our weaknesses. Our ugliness. Even our beauty.
You can’t offer a writer safety. You can’t offer safety. It’s not in your purview, it’s not in anyone’s.
A writing rule that’s never broken is a straitjacket. “Interest the reader,” okay. That works. But Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady interested me, and Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea made me want to shoot myself. So maybe the writer should interest herself. Should inflame herself.
Self-branded experts are invited on TV, and people “RT” them on Twitter, and they seem knowledgeable–because people agree with them, because they talk like they’re right, without equivocation, without doubt.
Why is certainty so applauded? Because we fear our own doubts? Okay, but that’s not brave. That’s fearful. And that’s not writing. And writing isn’t cool, either. Writing is conversation with self, and we shouldn’t all be having the same conversation with our selves. That’s freaky, frightening, and not human.
And change is part of what is thrilling, as well as what is frightening. Flaubert got sued. David Lynch got three thousand raised eyebrows at least.
I look at it like this. Who taught Dostoevsky to write? Not some writing guru. Who taught Shakespeare? Who taught Jeanette Winterson? Maya Angelou? Ralph Ellison? Ngugi wa’Thiongo? Jose Saramago? Flannery O’Connor? Werner Herzog?
I don’t care if any of them went to school for it–no-one taught them to write. You know what did teach them?
Their burning hearts. Their ravenous minds. Their struggles. Their longing. And lots and lots and lots of sweat.
If you have that, you have the material to write, and to live. To ask, and to explore. To live and to die. To write.
No-one else can guide you into yourself.
No-one else can write your stories.
Abandon the given. Assail it.
There is no ground. Jump from it into yourself.
Nothing is the material which formed everything. Both are in you.
Make yourself from your own fragments. Hear no voice above your own. Seek the shapes under your words.
When you die, make sure it’s you they bury. Because you were you. And not some facsimile of what you thought a you should be.