“Fear murders the mind, but Sloth slays Soma.”
(“Sloth slays the body.”)
From Human Effort
Write what actually happened even if you have to change it around a bit to make it work right. As a matter of fact if you wanna avoid a lawsuit then change it around a bit anyway. It’ll still be true even as a story.
Write what you have actually lived. If you haven’t started living yet then for God’s sake go out and do that first. Before you write anything else. If this is the only thing you ever learn about writing then it is still the best thing you can learn about writing. Writing after all is never really about the writing, it’s always about the living.
It is far better to be good than perfect, which you’ll never be anyway.
If there is no poetry in what you’re saying then no one will remember it long, much less ever bother to quote it. You want to be quoted, and quoted a lot, whether you’re smart enough to know that yet or not.
Say exactly what you mean even if it takes the reader years to figure out what you really meant by that.
Don’t sit on your ass all day in a dingy little room and expect to compose anything worthwhile to say about anything. Ever. Yes, writing takes discipline and even isolation at times. But if you spend all day living in your head then you deserve to spend all day living in your head. Plus the only thing you’ll have to say anything about will be the crap that goes on in your head. If you don’t get that then try running that sappy, self-indulgent crap that constantly floats in your head by somebody else. Somebody normal I mean.
Dialogue is only really great if it’s absolutely real, but if it’s too real then it’s probably not. Really great I mean. Furthermore if you have to explain it (or that) then don’t bother, that’s what overpaid college professors are for – in other words if you assume everyone is a dense dumbass who can’t figure anything out for themselves then chances are you’re the dense dumbass. Instead just say it like it really is, only fictionally.
You owe the reader at least as much as yourself. To you that should mean a very high bar indeed. So high that you shouldn’t always make it over.
Don’t be boring. That’s usually dull.
Don’t turn everything into damned politics. That’s always stupid.
Again, go out and do something. Something worthwhile, something big, something fascinating, something risky, something exciting, something heroic, something self-sacrificial, something really tough to do… Learn to actually live. Then write about that. 9 times outta 10 shouting at a damned protest, running riot, and pissing on police cars ain’t what I mean. Maybe that does excite you but then again, in that case, you should probably be a professional protester instead of a writer. No, I take that back. Don’t be a professional protester. Not in any case.
If what you write seems like Real Life only it ain’t then you’re getting pretty good at fiction. If what you write in real life always seems like fiction then yeah, you still gotta lot to learn.
Write for the ages not the moment. Because that way they’ll either eventually catch up to you or you’ll catch up to them. Either way, it works.
Assume someone in the far future is gonna one day read what you wrote. You’ll want them to laugh at what you meant to be funny, and be sad at what you meant to be tragic. Not the other way around. But the way a lot of writers operate nowadays you would think they were trying for the opposite.
Write like it is an Heraclian labour (or, if you prefer, a Herculean labor) but still natural as hell. Not like, “ah to hell with it,” is still natural for you.
It ain’t rocket science people, it’s just Real Life and fiction writing. Unless it is fiction writing about rocket science. Then yeah, rocket science it up some.
If you think writing is the most important thing in the world then you are an absolute, self-indulgent, naive, juvenile fool who has never really done anything truly worthwhile in life. If you think writing is a cosmic vehicle for “expressing your soul,” or “sharing your innermost thoughts and dreams” then I both pity and laugh out loud at you. If you think writing can’t be as important as anything else in life, or is not a noble, manly (got nothing to do with gender or sex modern kiddies – I’m talking about Mankind), virtuous, and High Enterprise, then yeah, you shouldn’t be doing this. You’re wasting everyone’s time, including your own. But either way don’t make such a big deal of it. That totally belittles your efforts and work.
On the other hand don’t take anything I said above to be somehow political. I have to keep saying that over and over and over again because a lot of people are so stupid and self-absorbed nowadays.
Language is so important that it should be both invisible and sublime. Vocabulary is so important that only the truly ignorant don’t understand what I mean when I say that.
Despite all the modern, common, herdish, tribal, and currently popular bullshit advice on writing assume your audience is intelligent, well-read, curious, eager, and possessed of an excellent personal mind and Word-Hoard. If they ain’t then help them get there. Nobody is inspired by the scribblings of a dumbass with the vocabulary of a six year old, especially a dumbass with the vocabulary of a six year old pretending to be a writer. If somebody wants to habitually consume that kind of swill they can just watch TV or surf the internet.
Nobody gives a crap about what you say if they can’t apply it to themselves, however, if they can usefully or wisely apply it to themselves then even your crap will make a real impression.
It takes a long time to become really good at something. Don’t sweat that, but do work hard enough every day to break a good sweat at it.
Try and write just like everybody else and you surely will.
So you’re ahead of your time, or a throwback to a prior age… big deal. It shouldn’t bother you. If you’re just like everybody else then you’re just like everybody else. If that’s what you’re shooting for then why bother to write about it. Not worth recording anyway.
If all else fails – then Blood. Preferably your own, but whatever the situation really calls for.
(Fire often works too by the way. And explosions. Most anything with a lot of movement and activity.)
Ten years from now the most popular current advice on writing will still be shit, just like it is nowadays, only by then everybody else will know it too. So project forward and beat most other people to the punch.
Now have a good day folks.
Failure is the one thing that modern men are almost always willing to excuse and yet are almost never willing to learn from. No wonder it does them so little good.
from The Business, Career, and Work of Man
“FAIRY TALES, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
“Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”
~G.K. Chesterton: “The Red Angel.”
“When a man is terrified of being an outcast there is no way he can possibly be courageous enough to be honest.”
from Human Effort
Last night while in bed I decided to write up some new lines for my Western, the Lettered Men.
I’ll do that sometimes right before I go to bed. Got some good stuff done but had to rework some of em this morning. Many of these lines are spoken by Jerimiah Jereds, also known as “Wordy” (the only name his friends call him) because he will either invent words (neologisms) or will twist around old phrases and common sayings in new ways. Wordy sometimes acts as the comic-relief of the novel, which is pretty rough in parts, and sometimes acts as the de-facto Bard of the novel, being a sort of frontier’s poet and cowboy wordsmith.
Now not all of these snippets are by Wordy. But many are.
Anywho I gave my notes to my wife and daughter this morning (before the final rewrites) so that they could look over em and give me their opinion. I heard a lot of loud laughing coming from the kitchen table downstairs as I worked from my office so I reckon I did something right. They both seemed to like what they read.
Also I should not neglect that my mother came down to the house yesterday after lunch and she also reminded me of many of the old sayings and euphemisms of my grandparents and great-grandparents, which were in many ways the inspiration for Wordy.
So here are the final write ups for the Wordy Way. All from my novel The Lettered Men.
“He’d howl like an old hound dog if ya hung him with a new rope.”
“Ain’t really worth mentioning Word.”
“Oh yeah?” said Wordy. “Well half of not really worth mentioning still beats ever bit a nothing all day long. Specially in the middle a nowhere. So let’s just work around with what we got awhile and see where it leads us. Maybe tomorrow it still won’t be worth mentioning, but maybe in a week or two it will be. When we’re sitting our asses by the fire back home.”
“You can’t get there from here boys. But if we can just get over to there I bet we can.”
“He smells like he smothered a buzzard and kept it in his pants for a keepsake.”
All the boys laughed when they saw him come out of the barbers. All except Wordy. He just stared at Beau for awhile and then he stood up and circled him like a corvus round a scarecrow. “Hmmm-mmm,” he kept humming to himself as he circled.
“Well now, that’s a two bit shave and a haircut iffin I ever seen one,” he finally said. “Way I see it though she still owes ya a dollar in change just to make it even.”
“Dammit!” Beau said testily slapping his hat against his thigh. Dust and hair swirled everywhere. “I told her it didn’t look right to me.”
“Be alright Beau,” Wordy said. “You’re both new at this. She ain’t much of a judge a jug-heads and you ain’t much of a judge a women.”
“Oh, and you is you Wordy sumbitch!” Beau practically yelled.
“I didn’t say that,” said Wordy. “I just seen enough scalpings in my day to know the difference between a brave and a squaw cut.”
The boys all laughed again.
“That whore’s dumber than a plow mule, sure nuff, but she’s still twice as easy to ride. So if you’re gonna plow with her then just cut the reins and let her wander. Save ya both a lotta trouble.”
“He drunk up the sea and spit out Achilles.” (Wordy describing a cowboy that rode into town, got drunk, and started shooting and fighting.)
“He’s a one mare man. True enough. But he’ll go for any stallion what ain’t tied down.”
“Book learning ruined him for anything worth knowin. I wouldn’t trust him none.”
“The mare’s the better horse. He ain’t worth bad oats and barn rats.”
“There ain’t another man like him in the whole lot. Thank God. Can you imagine a whole herd a dem sumbitches?”
“She’s got a face like a sty-sow. But he’s a pot-bellied pig so who cares who slops who?”
“Ride her at your own peril kid. But don’t dismount till ya broke her.”
“Why, do you think she’ll foal on me?” he asked.
“Probably not,” said Wordy, “but she’s so rough you might.”
“Boy’s so slow that he’d hav’ta ride as hard as he could for a month just ta reach the county line.”
“Man knifed three Comanches and a Texas Ranger,” Sole said, “and lived to tell it. So you might just wanna shoot him. In the head. From behind. While he’s sleepin.”
“Maybe he’s just shot so many men by now that he’s plum forgot how to miss. Ever think a that?”
“Man smells like a Mississippi pole-cat, but he tracks like an Arkansas wild dog. Just make sure to keep him downwind and you’ll run em all to ground.”
“He’s slicker than a cold-creek water snake, but not near as warm-blooded. So keep him ahead of ya, but always in sight. Safe plays are always the safest.”
“Sir, your coffee tastes like chickpeas and boll-weevils. Without the chickpeas.”
“Damn Word! It smells like you shit a dead possum and then lit it on fire with pine tar!”
“Yeah,” Wordy said. “I ain’t feeling too well right now.”
“Fine,” Mason said. “But did ya have to spread it around to everybody else like that? You made the local skunks puke.”
Hart Thomas snorted, spit out his chaw, and then laughed out loud.
“Hell Hart,” Mason said, “you was the skunk I was referring to!”
“He’s cotton-brained and toe-headed. You walk a mile in his moccasins and you’ll end up Boot-hilled.”
“Oh, he went to war alright. He just never met a battle worth sitting through or a man his equal at a foot chase.”
“Ah hell Bill, iffin you gave him a new bull and three pregnant cows then in five years time he’d still be a sheep farmer.”
Hope you enjoyed em…
Part of me greatly adores and admires words, as they are man’s chief means of communication and the primary treasure of his High Word Hoard. Another part of me, an equal part, absolutely distrusts and detests words as they are the means by which far too many men habitually deceive themselves and the rest of the world, and mankind’s primary method of excuse making in order to avoid noble and just action.
(As a writer) I am like a man caught in the grinding maw of some bizarre and fantastic creature who is sometimes angelic, and sometimes demonic, yet always dangerous.
Real Reading is far more than just mentally decoding terms and words, it is psychologically apprehending and comprehending the very most subtle and sublime ideas and ideals that it is possible for man to ever understand.
Real Writing is far more than just encoding and transcribing phrases, it is transmitting, mind to mind and soul to soul, the very marrow of manhood and the very embodiment of human experience through script, so that it may be read again whenever needed into the design of the future.
My personal take on the true nature of real reading and real writing
All great literature can ultimately be reduced to three basic pronouns: I, you, and us.
By the way I’ve said for years that “Show, don’t tell” may just be the single most juvenile and straight-jacketing piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard in my life. Show, don’t tell is an appropriate device for certain genres and in certain situations, it is the kiss of death for great literature and poetry.
At the National Book Awards a few nights ago, Ursula Le Guin was honored with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a fancy sounding award that basically means she’s the bomb (she really is).
I’ve been reading Ursula Le Guin for a long time, since I first discovered The Earthsea Cycle, which re-invigorated my love for fantasy.
She’s also famous for her science-fiction, especially The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, and was one of the first to show the world that women can not only write great science-fiction, they can often do it better than men.
Le Guin is a “genre” writer who constantly worked to push the boundaries of what we think of as genre. Besides sci-fi and fantasy, she wrote poetry, creative non-fiction, and literary fiction.
I honestly believe she will go down in history as one of the greatest writers, literary or otherwise, of the 20th century.
With that in mind, here are ten quotes from Ursula Le Guin on her process as a writer:
Thanks to “show don’t tell,” I find writers in my workshops who think exposition is wicked. They’re afraid to describe the world they’ve invented.… This dread of writing a sentence that isn’t crammed with “gutwrenching action” leads fiction writers to rely far too much on dialogue, to restrict voice to limited third person and tense to the present.
As for “Write what you know,” I was regularly told this as a beginner. I think it’s a very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them.
From Paris Review:
But when people say, Did you always want to be a writer?, I have to say no! I always was a writer (tweet that, emphasis mine). I didn’t want to be a writer and lead the writer’s life and be glamorous and go to New York. I just wanted to do my job writing, and to do it really well.
From Paris Review:
When asked what authors she measures her work against, Le Guin says:
Charles Dickens. Jane Austen. And then, when I finally learned to read her, Virginia Woolf. Shoot for the top, always. You know you’ll never make it, but what’s the fun if you don’t shoot for the top? (tweet that)
From Paris Review:
Hey, guess what? You’re a woman. You can write like a woman. I saw that women don’t have to write about what men write about, or write what men think they want to read. I saw that women have whole areas of experience men don’t have—and that they’re worth writing and reading about.
From Paris Review:
It was Borges and Calvino who made me think, Hey, look at what they’re doing! Can I do that?
From Paris Review:
A very good book tells me news, tells me things I didn’t know, or didn’t know I knew, yet I recognize them— yes, I see, yes, this is how the world is. Fiction—and poetry and drama—cleanse the doors of perception. (tweet that)
I love this, by the way. It reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s quote, “No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.”
From Paris Review:
How should you begin your story?
With a voice. With a voice in the ear. That first page I wrote, which the novel progressed from, is simply Lavinia speaking to us—including me, apparently.
From Paris Review:
I want the story to have a rhythm that keeps moving forward. Because that’s the whole point of telling a story. You’re on a journey—you’re going from here to there. It’s got to move. Even if the rhythm is very complicated and subtle, that’s what’s going to carry the reader.
From Paris Review:
And one of [the things you learn as you get older] is, you really need less… My model for this is late Beethoven. He moves so strangely and quite suddenly sometimes from place to place in his music, in the late quartets. He knows where he’s going and he just doesn’t want to waste all that time getting there…. One is aware of this as one gets older. You can’t waste time.
How about you? What do you love about Ursula Le Guin? What has she taught you about writing?
Use tip #5 and write like who you really are. Write like a woman or a man or an American or an alien or an Ursula Le Guin or a Joe Bunting. Write just as you are.
Write for fifteen minutes. When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to give feedback to a few other writers.
God is the least passive and static Being and Force in the universe. Any universe. If you are “waiting upon God” then it is only because you have gravely mistaken your real position in relation to things. God long ago easily and immediately surpassed you and is merely waiting upon you to catch up to him, not the other way around.
Do not deceive yourself. You do not “sit and wait upon God.” God sits and waits upon you… sometimes interminably.
When the Free and Good and Noble Man is too powerful to resist then you have peace and prosperity. When the Free and Good and Noble Man is too weak to resist then you have tyranny and war.
“Cowardice always has its blood-price. And it is always higher than the Blood-price of the Brave.”
I don’t have any idols. Never have, and never will, either real or fictional. I have people I admire, and would like to emulate in some way or another (not emulate in other ways) but not idols. Certainly not like modern people seem to think of idols. In the sense that I’d like to be someone else or that I would ever fawn over anyone else. I never would. I have only ever wanted to be me. And I would never fawn over me, much less any other man. To me that is both low, and ignorant.
And I don’t think of the people I admire and would like to emulate in some way as my rivals, but rather as exemplars of some particular capability or trait. And likely and potential friends with whom I would work well together or some important project or endeavor. To me to instinctively think of other great men as my natural and necessary rivals is both low and arrogant. So in those senses I totally disagree with this sentiment.
However I think that the underlying implication is that you want to work your way up to being a Peer and an Equal (in the sense of your on capabilities) with other great men and women, rather than forever remain a subordinate or inferior (in action and ability). And in that respect I agree with the sentiment expressed below.
I have always believed in the Peerage (and Friendship) of Great Equals. I think that is what this is really trying to convey. Unfortunately modern people are so filled with the petty pop culture modern bullshit of fawning over and being obsequious towards others, sometimes of actually wanting to be and of idolizing others (rather than their abilities and capabilities), or of being jealous of others (a very petty and puny vice indeed), and just instinctively think of other Great Men and Women as natural rivals rather than what they truly are – potential Peers and Friends and as Great Men and Women with whom you could work to achieve even more together than you could separately.
So in that respect the only way far too many modern people seem to reflexively understand other Great Men and Women is as either idols and/or rivals. And thinking of other men as idols is just plain juvenile, whereas thinking of other men as natural and unavoidable rivals is not necessarily Wise at all. These habits and ideals seem more engrained by uncritical and unexamined instinct than by malicious intent. Still, I think them small and counter-productive for the most part.
But I don’t think of other men in that way at all. First of all I think of all men as my equals, neither inferior nor superior. And secondly I think of all men as being my potential peers if they so wish.
I think of it as the Peerage of Great Equals.
And that’s exactly what I mean to be, the Peer and Equal of Other Great Men.
But I will never idolize them, anymore than I wish to be idolized, nor are other men my instinctive rivals. Just as likely they are my as yet unrealized friends and peers.
Skill can be taught, talent cannot. Yet talent unmastered is skill-less at best.
Being patient and peaceful in the midst of adversity can often be Great Virtues. Being passive in the face of anything is, more often than not, merely a vice.
So many men think that if only they lived in a good and just world then they too would be by nature and in all things good and just. Not realizing, or not wishing to realize, that it is not the world that so makes the man but the man the world.
In the past three days I have written four poems (Three Strangers, Fall Is Not a Season, two untitled as yet), five songs (Waking in the Grave, I Took My Guns, A Hoard Did I Encounter, I’d Really Like to Know, one untitled so far), part of a new sci-fi short story (Proximal), dialogue for my novel (There is a Road), an essay, several aphorisms, 20 or so measures of music, made several blog and message board posts, started a couple of papers, outlined a new Ebook (The Trainable Man), sketched out part of a map, and wrote up part of an invention draft.
That’s a pretty good clip even for me.
For some reason I’ve just been hot over the past few days. You get that way sometimes.
Modern man wants everything explained to him. Not understanding that the very best and most perfect explanations are those left unspoken.
If you are hiding things from your audience when you write then you are not really a writer – you are a censor and a self-censor.
Science used to be primarily concerned with the Truth, now it is primarily bothered by it.
The modern artist is on rare occasion entirely right. The modern scientist is on many occasions completely wrong. The difference in relation to everyone else is this: the artist, even if he is sometimes entirely right, has no guarantee of any kind that he can convince anyone of it, except himself, whereas the scientist, even if he is completely and habitually wrong can easily convince millions of the gullible that he must be correct.
I still have no idea what man may yet best me at something. But I always know that man who will never best me at anything – the man who does not try.
If you don’t have the courage to actually do a thing then what does it matter if you talk about it for a thousand years? You still won’t have the guts to actually attempt it.
Honesty is that method by which a man becomes more truly himself.
Emotions are fine things if they lead to useful improvements in a man’s circumstances (beneficial insights, sustained advancement, heroic self-sacrifice, workable solutions and cures), but emotions that merely lead to more emotions and to self-absorption are worse than useless, they are actually detrimental to human progress.
Modern man is almost wholly absorbed in the latter view of his own emotions. Therefore he constantly wallows in his own anger, fear, hatred, and loss of self-discipline and self-control. He is in constant self-generated despair about both the things he could easily control about himself and the world but won’t bother to, and the things he could never control but “feels” he must.
Yet it never occurs to modern man that he is absorbed in this hyper-emotional outlook upon himself and the rest of the world merely because he chooses it to be so. Many far wiser people throughout the history of the world have had far different views upon the role emotions should play in living their lives.
Emotions are merely camouflaged vices when they overmaster the man.
I would venture to say that most of the diseases and disorders (especially the chronic ones) faced by modern man develop as a direct result of his mostly self-inflicted sedentary and passive nature. He is sedentary and passive in his work, he is sedentary and passive in his entertainments, he is sedentary and passive in his ambitions, he is sedentary and passive towards evil and injustice in the world, he is sedentary and passive in the amount of tyranny he will endure, he is sedentary and passive in his economic ventures, he is sedentary and passive in his relations with others, and he is sedentary and passive in his very nature.
Modern man is filled with the sitting and waiting diseases. He is mainly merely an observer of life, sitting upon his plump ass in his comfortable cafes, staring at his various diversionary devices and inventions, waiting for something to happen. Of course everything that is really happening around him he is entirely unobservant of and uninvolved with.
How could such a way of life, practiced continually, breed anything but disease and disorder?
Just because, for the moment, you cannot pursue the repairs you wish to make does not mean you should make no repairs. Just because, for the moment, you cannot obtain the cure you wish to obtain does not mean that you should attempt no cure of any kind. Just because, for the moment, you cannot create the permanent solution you most desire does not mean you must desire to never act upon the temporary solution. Repair what you can, cure what you can, and resolve what you can as you can for even only a partial answer is a far better response than the reply of apathy, inaction, sloth, and despair.
To be of any use in marriage one must be patiently forgiving of the shortcomings of your partner while eagerly desirous of eliminating your own.
The Men of the (modern) West want a Sally Knight to ride forth and do Good and Justice in the world. It’s just that most of them always want to be the Sally, never the Knight.
It readily occurs to modern man to automatically doubt everything and everyone at all times, except of course, his own doubts at any time.
If I am ever self-obsessed
How then may I be true-possessed
By Virtues greater than myself
By powers grand, and high, and blessed?
If I am by my vices bound
How then may I my real depths sound
Or motive out what I have found
Within my soul before it drowns?
If I am timid, small, and weak
What greater thing may I then seek
What in me that is unique
That does not of the craven reek?
If I am hapless, dim, and dumb
What of depth may I then plumb
Naïve or stupid I succumb
To all that ever ill-becomes,
If I am slothful, lazy, sad
If I am wrathful, greedy, mad
If taken less than all I add
What do I gain that makes me glad?
For though I am but mortal man
I hope that you will understand
I’ll be no less than what I can
Though Stranger in the Strange, Strange Land.
THEY SAY TO ME
They say the dark is my best side
So there I’ve lived with naught to hide
Seen blood that stained and stains that bled
Looked into eyes and into heads
Yet I can say I’ve never seen
What I most hoped to in my dreams
An end to evil, a cease to it
On it goes, each time relit
Upon the last one left to fall
I’ve seen enough, I’ve seen it all
Except the one thing I would like
A Dawn of Peace, a Bloodless Night.
alternate last line: A Dawn of Peace, just one Just Night
Most men could change for the better in an instant if they really so desired. Unfortunately most men would rather expend the enormous energies required to prove themselves right than expend the far more modest effort required to actually be right.
God is extremely good at concealment, and when he so wishes, God is absolutely beyond all our meager capabilities of pursuit and detection. Yet when God wishes to be found then he will be found and the Wise man does very well to observe and note all he can for as long as he can. For in such moments of discovery are to be found the answer to many a mystery.
Words become wind when devoid of all substance. If you wish to say well, then first do well. Action gives substance to words, words do not give substance to reality. They merely describe it.
If you want to write well about anything in life worth doing, then first do that thing. Thereafter the writing will mostly take care of itself.
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