I look at storytelling like a meandering stream; it can only be truly understood by those with the courage to swim in it. You can’t understand the current if you’ve never been in the water. I find it interesting that there are people who’ve been in other streams who believe they can diagnose your stream. Some people call these people critics, but I look at them as poor geographers. Not poor as in money, but poor in terms of performance. No one book is going to be the same as another book. They may be similar, but they are not the same. Correlation does not equal causality. I’m always so surprised by how many people overlook the beauty of a book because of its similarities to those who’ve come before it. I think you’ve got to be in the right mood to read a great piece of literature. If I’m not feeling F. Scott Fitzgerald today I don’t care how much I appreciate the guy in general I’m going to have a lower opinion of his work than I should. That goes for any author and any book.
I started in the world of memoir and creative nonfiction. That’s a messy realm. It’s very hard to distinguish yourself amongst those writers. Everyone thinks that what’s happened to them is important. Rush Limbaugh writes like three books a year and I don’t think that guy’s ever had an original thought cross his mind. People like that are anti-authors. They make those of us who do this day in and day out look bad because they give people the illusion that anyone can publish a book. Most people can’t even write a book. Fewer people can edit a book and only a select few can deal with a publisher long enough to get their work on the bookshelves. I heard an author say once that he turned in the draft that would go on to be his first novel because he got bored with it. That’s a terrible reason to finish a book. I get bored with things all the time. I get bored binge watching TV. That doesn’t mean I throw the TV away. Art has to be sculpted, it has to be crafted, and it has to be an achievement that the artist isn’t just content with, but proud to call their own.
I don’t think that writing is something that non-writers will ever understand. Someone said to me that they couldn’t imagine living a life where they were shut in an office all day forced to make word counts day in and day out. I couldn’t live that life either. Thank God that’s not what being a writer is. Some writers may shut themselves in if they have a deadline to meet, but most of the writers I know are people who just don’t like being social so they’d rather spend that time either by themselves or with people they really care about. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Non-writers throw us have some ridiculous ideas about how we function too. People forward me e-mails about things that make me mad or something that’s bizarre thinking that maybe I’ll write about it. I want to write about the things that I’m good at writing about. That sounds like it should be fairly obvious, but I’m not going to start writing romance novels because I nothing about romance, heck I know nothing about dating and I know about as little as someone my age can about the opposite sex. It would be banal for someone to expect me to write about that. Ask me to write about crime though. That I’m interested in – not because I’ve participated in the perpetration of so many criminal activities – but because I find people making bad choices even more interesting than people who make good choices.
I think everyone has something very specific that they’re here on Earth to do. My dog has a very specific function. His job is to get super excited so that I feel happy when I’m tired and just want to go back to bed. My friends serve as an inspiration for me to do better work and express myself in new and imaginative ways. My family makes me take a deep look at what I put on the page because I know it is just as much a representation of them as it is of me. The forces at work in our lives shape us in ways we can’t even imagine and that’s what makes writing so unique. No one can write a sentence the same way. I could give you two ideas and tell you to communicate it in the same way and I’d still get different sentences. As long as ideas are being communicated through imperfect means there is an opportunity to say something and to do something with the common medium that we all share: language. Language serves as the largest unifying form of identity in the world. We identify ourselves by “English speaking countries.” That’s how it works. Language trumps religion in that regard and in many parts of the world there isn’t much that beats out religion.
Language serves a dual purpose in our lives. It serves as the link that binds us together as people and it serves as our chief form of identity. Think about who people were before language and written systems. They were cavemen. When we got language we got history and culture and a way of life. Language makes the world as we know it the way it is and that’s why it’s so powerful. A word can be a day changer. Utter the word: “pretty” to a girl on the street. It’ll make her day. A sentence can change the way we look at the world. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” A well-written paragraph can change who we are, what we believe in, and in some cases what we’re willing to die for. See the Bible and the Koran for examples there. I know of no more powerful tool in civilization than our ability to use language effectively and I know of no better way to shape our world than to challenge the words and the ideas that we have always taken as fact.