Dear Caitlyn, of the North., I Have No Advice for You
But Feel Free to Say Hello.
Written while listening to Computer vs. Banjo by Computer vs. Banjo
There’s only two bits of good advice in the world anyway:
- Put in the hours.
- Be honest.
The only other part of the “doing things well” equation there is floats in some eerie place having to do with “finding where you fit in the process.” And nobody can tell you how to do that.
With a little empathy, we can help each other stumble through.
This is my blessing on you:
May the sparks in your fingers, scratching these otherwise noiseless shapes into such lively lines, continue to draw pictures in the wind.
And may you embrace your writing black belt.
They Keep Telling me that the Best Writers are too Busy to Write Writing Advice
They’re probably right. I’m not one of the best writers. And I’m not one of these dudes who’s in a good position to give advice, ’cause fuck that shit. Life’s too hard as it is to be getting panty-twisted about correctness or correcting people.
So screw advice. We can all look up the generic advice from the greats. They’ve only got two pieces of good writing advice anyway: write honestly, write a lot. So fuck them too. They have different poetic ways of saying that to us, but if you distill all the lessons from every great writer to their barest spark, that’s all they’re saying: write honestly, write a lot.
(Hacks leave out one or the other of those lessons, in my studied opinion, jus’ in case you wondered about my studied opinion. Most people don’t wonder.)
Screw advice. No writer needs advice. The closest they’d need to advice is technical instruction, but that’s objective and not worth handing out without context, so fuck that too.
No Writer Needs Advice
Every Writer Needs to Learn to Balance Loneliness and Self-possession
Not interested, at the moment, in making some arrogant expostulation of that axiomatic set of words. I believe they’re true. Feel free to ask me about them — we can talk. Not interested in explaining. Because, again, fuck that.
I am interested in saying this about it in general:
My personal invitation to every writer: Talk to me. Feel free. I’m a few clicks away. I’m not an expert. I’m not a guru. I am another writer whose dredging through my double-edge relationship with the Craft. We — writers in particular, but the rest of us too — always feel alone. Loneliness is an epidemic. These days that’s a bit loopy. Everyone’s a finger’s brush away in the weirdly crackling halls of the interwebz, as it should be.
There’s a strange culture that’s risen around the internet, like just because you don’t know someone in person you can’t get in touch with them on the internet because…
And then the thought falls apart, because it makes no sense.
We think we’re a more civilized culture than once we were.
Humbug. Once there was a convention for introducing yourself to strangers: a letter of introduction. It went ahead of you, and with it you introduced yourself, and in that way you could enter into a social arrangement with someone who was, till then, a stranger.
Somehow, now that it’s easier than ever to do something like writing a letter of introduction, we’re more loathe than ever to do so. I don’t know quite why that would be, but there you are.
Maybe it’s to do with the potential abuse of such things. Maybe we need to start a system where people can put up a sign somewhere that says whether they’re currently accepting letters of introduction or not. That might help.
Although it would require a culture that expects letters of introduction to be a thing.
Perhaps I’ll start doing both things — sending letters of introduction and announcing in some way whether I’m accepting them at the moment or not.
But, as one whisperer would say, I digress.
Let it, therefore, be known that my letter of introduction “in tray” is currently open to everyone. Drop a line. Say hello. Not because I’m so cool. I don’t know whether I am. I like who I am, but I’m sure not everyone does. Feel free to get in touch because I love talking to new people.
Trust me, you will not be bothering me.
(Letter within the letter, to everyone else out there who’s in a similar place to Caitlyn, of the North.: I love hearing from everyone. This doesn’t just apply to her.)
Because no writer needs advice. But every writer needs support.
And I shall support you in the only way I know: I’ll talk to you when you get in touch.
I hope that all writers adopt similar practice, at least on occasion.
I’m losing my thread. I never had one to begin with, but I’m losing it anyway…
Briefly, a Word regarding the Blessing
The only other important piece of advice I’ve heard repeated by the “great” writers is: find your voice.
It’s an important piece of advice, and it’s consummately useless.
It’s important, because “Your Voice” is what turns accurate writing into soul-slashing scratchings.
And it’s consummately useless because nobody can tell you how to find your voice. All the greats tell you that you need to find your voice. We assume that means we haven’t found our voice, when we hear the piece of advice. “Great writers” tell us to find our voice when we’re young and impressionable, and it fucks us.
Guess what? I found my voice at thirteen.
Then I heard that I had to find my voice, and I assumed I hadn’t yet, and I spent the next thirteen years circling around, trying to be a person, kicking myself in the balls and trying to hack up “the real me” from somewhere in my empty depths.
Fuckin’…mentors. Shit. Okay, so I’ve got a little resentment built up around this because my voice is a weird combination of utter ADD random ping-ponging around mixed with archaic classicism. I’m over-wordy and excessively tangible. I love poetical formations, and I hate “edgy progressiveness.”
Creative writing teachers have hated my voice since I first gave shape to this air and called it sense.
With the exception of some people. God love them. Who saw what I was doing and smiled at it.
It’s been a battle for my whole experience as a writer. I fight with all my teachers about usage and word choice and style.
The fight’s been important. I needed the fight. I needed to learn some lessons about simplicity and clarity, and intellectual violence turned out to be an effective teacher for me. I know I’m a stronger writer for the fight.
I also know that I found my voice at thirteen, and that the advice “find your voice” fiddled with that discovery.
Fortunately for me — although the rest of the world seems loathe to approve of it — I never gave up on my “voice,” and I’ve rediscovered it.
I’m one of the lucky ones.
We all need to find our voice, we writers.
Some people who write never find their voices. We’ve all read those people. We see that there’s accurately presented information in their words, and yet we somehow find the whole thing impersonal and unsettling. You know, like a gravestone… Or maybe that’s just me.
Those people are the peculiar type of writer with enough analytical aptitude to write with good grammar and correct style who can clearly and effectively draw us an accurate thought picture of a robot’s mind.
Writing with no soul is what I’m describing. Writing that does everything right except provide human connection.
Those people have their black belts in writing.
Now they need to find their voice and get down to some real work and get some writing done.
Because it’s impossible to tell anyone how to find their voice…
I’m stopping right there to say something with as much emphasis as my already spent exclamation point ration can say:
Caitlyn, of the North., you have your voice. I am not sure how to point it out, but I feel it in my marrow that you’ve got your voice. I read your words and I hear a person speaking to me. You are in your words. No one can teach you how to do that, but I will encourage it with all of me that I have left. It’s that, whatever that is, turns words into magic.
If this isn’t already your practice, I hope you mumble, “fuck off,” somewhere in your mind to anyone who says you need to work on it. They’re a bunch of low-sodium Slim Jims with their fingers busy being stuck in something, and you have no reason to listen to them. If they have any advice or tricks for clarity or effectiveness, or for the meta-writer work we need to do sometimes — yay, Patreon! — then file those bits of information away as appropriate. But treat anything they have to say about your voice as an expression a little bit of jealousy and a little bit of self-absorption: there might be something useful in it, but probably not exactly what they’re saying.
Keep doing what you do, Caitlyn, of the North.. You’re doing the right thing.
Because black belts. You know how to write. Stop trying to be a writer and be a writer. Time to work.
Keep in touch, if it please you to do so.
Ever wondered if periods of cultural renaissance move in cycles? Ever wished you could describe your writing as a “gut punch”? Do the words, “the banjo: good EDM instrument” make little enough sense that the universe should be imploding right now?
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