In this project for Parasitic Lit, I wrote this part: “when fires erupt in wires safe for years, when fire explodes and shoots into the night air, when a cigarette butt refuses to die and pulls down a forest; the fire simply ached for too long to be free and broke out of its nothingness”… but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is the whole.
You see, we, those of us listed there, were all asked for a first line that never grew into much more. And that is a line that hasn’t quite found its home in my work, so I passed it along. I passed it along a while ago, so I’d nearly forgotten bout the mash-up project entirely until I saw it this morning in my inbox. And, it’s timed well, as yesterday I was discussing the idea of group-written endings, and how such an activity would challenge our attachment to the words we write, though probably in the best way.
There is a mindset when in the editing phase or when discussing writing that makes it go well, that is when the writer is ready to let go of the work some, usually when it’s written from some level of self-awareness, I suppose, though that seems too grand of language, really. It’s written from a healthy place, as opposed to being written to solicit assurance, or approval or validation or even written as a personal lifeline, really. This writing is a delight to edit or discuss because a red pen mark isn’t perceived as a personal affront and the writing is able to stand independently without the writer propping it up and looming over it.
I should probably say here that through the course of every piece of writing, it probably enters both phases at various points. In my case it starts tender and close then as I get it all down and fortify it a bit, it grows towards the light of day some. (Oh dear, I just likened writing to gardening.)
I used to totally be over-attached to my words. And then, I had a revelation to trust myself on some level that there were more words where these came from. Easier said than done, I realize, and it certainly wasn’t anything that occurred overnight. There was a phase of having to put work away and let it sit for a while before returning to it. Then, that evolved into only putting it away if I felt a little defensive about the writing, assuring myself that defensiveness was a sure clue that it wasn’t going to stand up to much of any critical scrutiny on it’s own very well if I still felt the need to react. Finally I toughened a bit. Mainly, I did this inadvertantly, as a result, really, of asking myself “Why are you telling this story?” which gave way to the more philosophical “If I am really writing only to write, then I wouldn’t be motivated to submit this work. Right? Wouldn’t writing be just as valid if I wrote my entire life and stowed it away in a trunk?” which led me to ask myself often “Why are you submitting this?”
I think that line of questioning became especially important with essay. Because with essay, especially, the answer to “Guth, why are you submitting this piece?” was, from time to time, more about submitting the topic for editorial scrutiny (assurance-seeking on some level, surely) than the writing. My goal in questioning myself wasn’t to discourage myself from submitting any of my work, but only to make sure I had some distance, and thus perspective, from it before sending it and that I wasn’t telling a story as any sort of personal lifeline, even if it started as a catharsis of any kind.
Because, let’s not kid ourselves, there is a lot of self-serving material out there. There is far more earnestly-written material, sure. Even plenty of earnestly-written material written without attachment or emotional insecurity involved. But, there is some degree of material written that serves only as catharsis for ourselves. And, while tons of great material starts that way, in its initial draft it often lies too close to the writer, and that pink underbelly reads all wrong all too often, it somehow always reads self-involved or entitled, worse, alienating.
So, what I’m saying here, in my tangential way, is that writerly attachment versus a more write it and let it go approach, or, me-me-me-writing versus connectivity to some universal recognizable truths and issues is on my mind today. And, in keeping with that theme, I’m going to Quickies! Reading Series tonight, a reading which allows each writer only five minutes to read before a buzzer is sounded and they’re off the stage. Talk about getting down to business. I’m reading at next month’s edition (tonight, Ben Tanzer and Nick Ostdick are reading!), so I’m glad that I’ll hopefully have this get out of one’s own way and make it understandable sort of thing in mind for a while.