There are two things which, for me, are fused together: my history as an artist as it leads to me as a creative writer and how bad I am at attacking the execution of my art today. One of the things the WriteGallery(TM) is about is the discussion of us, we writers, doing it. Just doing it! I am terrible at that. I know I am not alone. I recently spent an afternoon with one of the finest writers I know, Sarah Munro, and our procrastination, our writers' blocks, was one of our topics of conversation. The thing is, I used to be great at "doing it." I spent my entire childhood embroiled in being creative as much of every waking hour of every day as I could get away with. I wrote cartoon stories. I made up stories and plot lines in my head to act out, whether I was with my friends or alone, it really didn't matter. I drew. I made gothic castles, killer robots, the bridge of the starship Enterprise out of Lego® building blocks. I took G.I. Joe through the Vietnamese jungle, which was located in the uncut grass under the hedges at the front of our lawn. I was just like most kids: hungry to be creative, fueled by aliveness.
When I was seventeen-years-old, I sat at the baby Grande piano in the music room at Wilbur Wright high school. Auditions for the Spring musical were only moments from beginning. I was doodling around with the white keys -- what I later found to be the key of "C." While I was waiting for the auditions to begin, while the anarchic energy of a room full of creative teenagers was settling into something that our drama and music instructors, Mr. Scott and Mr. Johnson, could harness into a structured session, I came up with a chord progression. I knew I had the beginning of a song. It was very simple stuff, since it was created by a young man who did not play the piano or know anything at all about music theory. Yet, there it was: a pleasant sound, a good chord structuring. Later, that weekend, in the basement at my friend Jerry Spencer's house, while he, Jerry Mashburn and Richey Hisey (who would soon become my music partner) played pool, I sat at the Spencers' old upright piano and finished out the chord progressions. The next day, with the music in my head, I wrote the lyrics to "Isn't It Strange?" I had written my first song.
An avid Paul McCartney fan, I had recently purchased a really cheap bass guitar, with a home made V-shaped body that was literally lighter in weight than the neck; this made playing it awkward; this made learning on it a big challenge. Within a week after that audition, I had written my second song, "Just By Being You," this time on bass. It was actually quite advanced a melodic piece, musically, at least for a young man who barely played the bass and still did not know anything at all about music theory. Yet, there it was: a pleasant sound, a good song. It was debuted a few weeks later, without an amp, in the kitchen at Jerry Spencer's house for Richey Hisey, who was now only weeks away from musically partnering with me. Rich, as he soon became to me, was quite impressed. And, as it happened, only a short time later, a matter of days, in fact, his uncle bought him an old player piano.
Less than six weeks after that audition for the musical, Rich had written his first song, "It Must Be Love." And it was very good. So, I wrote another one. Then he did. We talked about music and bands. We found we thought a lot alike, but not completely alike. I wrote another song that impressed him. He wrote one that impressed me -- and intimidated me. Then I intimated him with my next song. Then we wrote one together. Then we intimidated each other. Then we wrote another one together. We passed through the rest of our teens and into our early twenties as our own incarnation of Lennon and McCartney, Hall and Oats, Steely Dan.
For more than five years of my life, daily, I wrote at least part of a song. I was driven. Some of it was that inexhaustible energy of youth. Some of it was the competition between two partners. Mostly it was the companionship of our partnership. We kept the fire kindled for each other. I have written hundreds of songs. Now mind you, many of them are not very good. Many are simply experiments, lessons in getting it right by getting it wrong. But there ultimately is a good catalog of high quality music -- for which I do have a plan, by the way. I have a body of work, a few dozen really good songs, which exists because of the daily trudge that produced a larger body of mediocre material.
As a writer today, I do not trudge through daily writing any more. I'd blame it on that lack of youthful exuberance, but, that would be a cop out. I am not so sure I really have a lack of such. I sure don't feel the way I have always been under the impression one is supposed to feel at forty; I don't feel like I'm getting old. Perhaps that isn't unique. Perhaps the standard preconception we have about the ages ahead of us is always a lie. But, I digress.
By the time I was in my late twenties, the goal of making it in the music business was in serious threat. Rich was getting married and hanging up his drum sticks (his first instrument was the drum kit). I was recovering from the indiscretion of alcoholism and drug abuse and was searching down a spiritual path for rebirth. By the time I turned thirty, though I had not abandoned music as one of my art forms -- that will never happen -- I had made a definite decision to focus on writing fiction. I had written short stories and poetry off- and-on since I was probably thirteen or fourteen. My first novel, in fact, was written in my early twenties. It was a pot-induced espionage epic, and it was pretty dismal. I actually wrote it in about three-week's time. A reader would be able to tell both that it was written quickly and under the influence of dope, not to mention that it was a first attempt by a quintessential novice.
At thirty, I had three novels on my back. One, a science fiction novel, was in some real stage of background work; one was a growing ember that had been sparked by the life I had wanted to be living (that in rock-and-roll), and it is the novel that is most likely to be finished; the third had a bit of a start -- meaning there were lots of words on the page. It was a horror piece that has little chance in my literary future. But, it had its import. For with it I had a fan, Linda, who helped me kindle the fire. She was a writer, too. She encouraged me greatly. She was one who would ask me to sign the drafts of each chapter as I gave them to her to critique, because "someday you're going to be famous." We can all use a few audience members like that; ones who are not family members that is. Statements like that from family members don't count. Statements like that from intelligent people who are in love with the craft of writing can help one write a few more pages. Linda did have many points of contention with the story, but, she was a writer and she gave me an important sense that I was not making a mistake by thinking I had business sitting down at a type writer to tell stories.
Thirty was also the age that found me finally in college. I was there because I wanted to be a writer. I took almost every writing course available. When I discovered that some of them would not count toward my English degree because of saturation of too many "ENG" credits, I applied for a duel major in English and Mass Communication and took the same writing courses under their identities as "COM" credits. The deadlines to meet certainly kindled the fire. My emphasis in English was in Creative Writing; I took all the seminars and repeated them to the limit. The work shopping of stories was key. The community of other writers was instrumental in chopping my writing skills into shape. But the big thing was that I wrote a lot. And, as it was when I was a teenager writing songs, a lot of the fiction and poetry I was writing just didn't cut it. But, the more crap I wrote, the more chance there was for good drafts to be born in between the crap drafts. That is the ultimate truth about being an artist. We have to be bold enough to make awful art so we can let the great art happen to us. It's not the entire answer, but, it is true that a lot of this science deals with the volume of attempts.
Now that I have a forty-hour-a-week job and a web site that demands more time than I would have guessed before I dove into it, I find that my volume of attempts is not high. My solution is to get up at 4:00 in the morning to work on that volume. That is an ideal that is not realized more than fifty percent of the time. This web site is part of that. There is a lot to do. I wish I had a staff of about twenty. Still, I am responsible for my time management or lack there of. I am also responsible to approach others whom I know will kindle the fire. I have once again started. Sarah now has a draft of one of my latest short stories. She will tell me what she really thinks. And if she loves it, I am rekindled by the respect of a fine author; if she has problems with it, I am rekindled by the respect a fine author shows me by offering her good advise. I really can't lose. It's the way it's supposed to be and the way it's always been.
One of the reasons why WriteGallery(TM) went to a more structured updating schedule is so that I will not be going crazy, on a daily basis, week-after-week, concerning myself with getting a here and a page there FTP'd to the server with an update to it. I recognized late in the summer that if I wanted time to write my own fiction and poetry, I had to make it. So I have. But, I have been so out of the habit that I still have not done much. Recently that has been changing, by force.
After more than a year of making no submissions anywhere, I am happy to say that I have just submitted several poems to a literary magazine [Oct, 1998]. Only one poem is brand new, but, only one other has ever been published, and that was here ("Haikus of Taimbee"); the others are recent revisions of poems that almost worked and now do work. I have also decided to do a second virtual chapbook for the site. This will consist of perhaps a dozen more poems for photographs by David Sims (re: "Down For Me"). That. However, will be the only way that anymore creative writing by me ends up at this site unless it is published somewhere else first. For two reasons I have made this decision. First, this forum is not a vanity publishing outlet for my work; second, I need to make myself attempt getting my work published as I know it can be. And as much as I love this site, as much as I really am glad there is a wealth of outlets on the web for writers, I want my work published on paper first. Because it's harder to do. And, I need that challenge. It is a way for me to kindle the fire. It will keep me in the habit of writing, so I may get the crap out of the way and get to the good stuff.
this essay first appeared on the "From K.L.'s Desk" page on October 20, 1998.
|For the index of K.L.'s creative writing and essays at this site, click here.|