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Sometimes, I try to write something. In fact, I do write something. I write line after line until I’ve got paragraphs. I spend several minutes, or even hours, before I realize my mistake, my monstrous mistake. It’s one I make repeatedly on blank screens and pieces of paper: I write a bunch of crap.
This wouldn’t be such a problem if only people enjoyed reading crap. But they have much better things to do.
You might be thinking, well, any number of things right now. But if I’m managing to engage you in this text, you’re likely thinking, “How do you even know if it’s crap?” Or, “What I call crap might not be the same as what you call crap!”
In addressing the former point, I can only say that if you want to be a writer, you work like hell to figure it out. But the latter point is more interesting.
First of all, by “crap,” I don’t mean “writing that is not good.” I can’t define “good” when it comes to literature. I would as soon judge what you read as judge the person who sleeps with you.
Furthermore, I don’t mean, “writing that doesn’t matter.” This is a little closer, but think of your average plot line. Maybe a person falls in love, kills someone or has some other problem. Whatever happens, it’s not your problem. You’re just reading the book, holding pages of relatively harmless paper in your hands.
When I read “Kafka on the Shore,” for instance, I was not a suspect in my father’s murder. Issues that matter to the main character, who is, in fact, a suspect in his father’s murder, didn’t matter to me the way they do to him. And since he’s merely a creation of Haruki Murakami’s awesome mind, do these issues even matter to him?
Do imaginary beings have real concerns, or only those imposed on them by those doing the imagining – by those imposing imaginary life in the first place? Are the concerns of real beings any less imaginary or imposed? Are we authors or are we characters?
If you’re a Murakami fan, you probably find these questions worth pursuing.
Regardless, I mean only to suggest that non-crap writing doesn’t necessarily matter.
Even nonfiction doesn’t have to mean much. Does it matter to me how John-Paul Sartre spent his childhood? Why would it? But I certainly enjoyed his autobiography, “The Words.”
What about this: Does it make any difference in my life how much food elephants eat in a day? I am not an elephant! But I recently enjoyed an article describing their gluttonous intake of 300-500 pounds of food a day.
In fact, if I were an elephant, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the article at all, unless I ate it.
No, when I say writing crap is a mistake, I’m referring to a very specific kind of crap. I mean writing that writing that is written either just for the writer, or just for the reader.
Now, I do plenty of writing just for myself. I do a lot of what’s called “free writing.” Lots of professional writers recommend free writing for some period of time every day, typically about 10 minutes, in order to get yourself writing and, with any luck, to clear away all the nonsense so you can write some non-crap.
Typically, my 10 minutes results either in uncensored, self-obsessed musings that I would be mortified if anybody read or in unedited, ultra-literal digests of my day (“Now I am typing a sentence. Now I am typing another sentence. That makes two sentences”). This is sometimes the best I can do.
So, this free writing is definitely crap. But I do not submit this writing to the newspaper, or to any other other publication. I don’t ask my husband to read it. Or my friends. Or my writing teachers. No one is ever subjected to this putrefied, melting, brown glop I scrape out of my brain.
Writing composed just for a reader – that a writer doesn’t have any personal interest in – is just as bad. I’ve tried writing columns about topics I think people might like, but if I don’t want to write about it, it simply doesn’t work. It’s just like the glop, but all dried up, verbs like old vomit.
For example, I like to write about my dogs but sometimes, for no particular reason, I don’t want to. On these days, I’ve tried writing about them anyhow because people seem to like my dogs.
And I want people to read my column. I want to write about things that interest them. But if I’m not also interested, doesn’t work. I’ll spend a half an hour writing 65 words and checking my e-mail 12 times.
Ultimately, I believe non-crap writing is a communion. The writer gives something to the reader, and while that something might not be universally good or significant, it should at least convince two people they’re not alone.
They’re sharing a laugh, a smile, a nod of recognition. If this never happened, writing would be like jumping into an echo-less canyon, and reading would be like watching.
E-mail Kelly Dolejsi at firstname.lastname@example.org.