Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Joy of Writing

Just let the words come to you

There was an interesting discussion on the subject of Amanda Knox's ability as a writer, and some were er, unkind. It seems there may be a bidding war for her prison diary though that might just be her PR agent spreading a rumour :)

Some compared her unfavourably to the French prodigy Francoise Sagan, whose first novel, Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness) was written when she was seventeen. Others thought her stream of consciousness style compared unfavourably with Beckett and Joyce. And others (in another forum) thought we were just frustrated writers become critics :)

But my interest in the subject comes from a different place. Is writing a declining art? Where is the next great book? What do I tell future generations of writers when it appears that TV, the Internet, and the Twitterization of the young and the navel-gazing of the Baby Boomers has made a vast desert of the field of literature?

Yes, I consider myself a writer, and hope the art of writing never dies out. I also hope no one is ever discouraged from writing (whether they are writing only because of celebrity or notoriety ;) since we all learn from the act of writing.

Some think the Akkadian epic of Gilgamesh is the first written work of literature, from around 2150 BCE. Me, I say we have written since pre-historic times, going back at least to the cave paintings of Chauvet and Lascaux in France. I see religious symbology, but also the history of a people there.

Me, I am only glad I didn't take Literature at University but the road that led to healing and spirituality. It wasn't me, and I thought right away the course would tell me what the formula for writing was, and I'd become a hack.

Yes, I did meet Joseph Campbell in Japan. Yes, I missed meeting Shirley MacLaine; her daughter went to my school the year after I left, and I mention her only in the context of saying, dang! she wrote about past life recall way after I did :)

And yes, I had a choice, go to New York in 1975 and become a published writer (I know I would have been) or go to London and everything I have become since then was because of making, the right choice (albeit a painful one :)

Because London was where I remembered the rest of my past lives, and wrote The Way of Atlan, and got married, and had a child that led to many more things.

I want to tell writers that it helps to love reading, and my mom taught me that by reading comic books to me. (That led to me reading Bonjour Tristesse, Anna Karenina, and Lady Chatterley's Lover when I was 13, booyah!) So of course I became editor of my school paper at 14 and wrote lots, so I suggest that you, too, write lots.

I also suggest you learn the rules of grammar and practice basic sentence construction as much as possible. You can always discard the rules when inspired, of course, but only after you've built the foundations. I never mind the avant-garde, as long as I get what you're saying.

Yes, indeed, genius is like a spiritual lottery, but there is no substitute for hard work. Genius tends to be unrecognized, but hard work brings the bread home.

So why do some get published, and others, not? Is it worth it to make a career of writing? No, of course not! You do it because you love it, and if others love it as well, that is only gravy.

I see the heart chakra as the seat of the creative soul. We live our art, be it music, sculpture, writing or any of a number of arts, and offer it freely. The heart chakra is also the seat of healing, and great art, heals. That is how we know it, regardless of what some might say. You see a great painting, and you feel whole, and good. If the art makes you think, that is great, but it is how it makes you feel that is the judge.

And if you never get published, that's OK. That too is a lottery, and even published writers struggle to pay the rent. You could always self-publish, of course.

I don't mean to denigrate the book industry. They need all the help they can get, and I appreciate the thousands of books I have to carry every time I move (note to self: enough smileys)

But you now have the option of putting up a blog, publishing on the Internet, and, self-publishing. When I quit my government job I cashed my entire pension, and plunked down $25,000 to have Man From Atlan printed. Set up my own imprint, a stained glass artist designed the cover, a computer designer did the fonts and films, an old fashioned print firm did the actual typesetting, printing and bookbinding. Which is the hard way, and now, it's much easier, because with print on demand you can get 10, or 100 printed even, no sweat. Or you can make a PDF file and post it on your site, or use Google Docs or E-Books. Up to you, go for it. As for me, I printed 5000 copies, sold 3000, made $60,000, and have 2000 copies left in my garage I would like to sell. Trust me, that's hard work, and it was worth it. I only want to publish more books.

I have a lot of respect for the work professional editors do. No writer can fail to get better with the support of a dedicated editor who works to make your writing the best it can be. You of course need her or his feedback, and they can be mentor, teacher, friend, and, ruthless cutter of every extraneous thought and embellishment you may have thought to attache to the hull of your craft.

But the good ones pretty much all work for the publishing houses, that can only print a few books a year. I wish they'd do a lot more translations of foreign work, there are amazing writers out there! and it would only benefit us all to learn from them, but also, to find our own voice.

Some years ago a Swedish literateur said the Nobel Prize for literature was undeserved by Americans, and his European condescension literally dripped from his fangs, but then of course the last few years have been reserved for Scandinavian poets I Have Never Heard Of, and we can of course never have too much Scandinavian irony and French wordplay. One has only to say Sartre! Camus! Gide! to think Literature!

Well, sorry, but I think Americans need only to read more, from far and abroad, Latin American to Bengali to Australian aboriginal writers. They need to travel more. They need to experience life, and not just their drug trips. They need to read their own canon, and take a few courses.

If they re-learned the art of penmanship that alone could make them better writers, I promise you. (I type, still very slowly, and make more grammatical and spelling errors than when I wrote my first book at 24, all in longhand)

Learn to rewrite, and speak your words out loud. Does it read right? Get a literary agent. Keep trying. Don't let rejection slips get you down. Don't try to be the next Big Thing or the next Kurt Vonnegut or whoever, be a writer of yourself. You are a unique soul, with a unique voice. If even one person appreciates you, then your work is validated.

So learn to appreciate 'criticism'. Some of which might even be valid, mind you. When I published Man From Atlan a few critics, men and women, panned it unmercifully for sexism or found the sexual violence in it unsettling. (They missed the part about regret, and karma, but their feelings were valid, and I understand that my work, unsettles) But it was reviewed, and sold in a lot of bookstores in Toronto and New York, and I was on television, and a lot of people recognized me in the street and told me how much the book had changed their lives. It certainly changed mine. The critic I remember the most is a judge, who also was a director of the Manly P. Hall Foundation, who said "I can not believe this book was written by a twenty-four year old man. The writing is too sophisticated to accept as such". Gee thank you, I thought it was raw and very rough, so this was the nicest thing ever said.

Writing is a gift we share with others. It is a craft for which we hope to get paid but even that is so we can keep on writing. It is a flow of energy that began when I was very young, and I offer my work to people to accept or not. All we want is feedback.

May you always know the joy of writing.


Betadolphin said...

Dear Sir,
I enjoyed reading your blog, after you had posted such a kind comment baout my paintings on Dr. Darkmoon's site. I actually thought you might be Dr. Darkmoon. In fact whilst reading your blog the thought once again took me to consider this possibility.
I would enjoy reading your tale of living on planet earth in this era.
Your encouragement to write is inspiring, and perhaps it will help me.
BTW I have authored seven little books, each of which you can read in one minute. Darkmoon suggests that I make a video with them.

Man From Atlan said...

Dear Betadolphin,

I've known Lasha Darkmoon and her friend Xanadu for some years now, but no I'm not her, as my picture can show :)

You're always welcome to drop in and check out the other articles, or leave a comment if you like.

Lasha was kind enough to appreciate my writing in the past (lots of comments from her then, and she's always welcome to come back) and she herself is a major talent, imo.

But so, too, are you. I urge people to check out samples of Betadolphin's work at

I would love to see your work made into a video, and if you have a website, I will put people on to it as well.