Writers on writing – Paul Auster

This came up in my YouTube “recommended” side-bar. I’ve not read anything by Auster, wasn’t even sure if he was British or American until I heard him speak. He has a pleasant face and I like listening to his voice. Can’t say that for all writers, that’s for sure. Martin Amis has an agreeable voice, but is not so interesting to look at: he sits so still, imho.

“It’s so much a matter of the unconscious telling you what to put on the page. And if you’re listening and relaxed enough to be able to listen, it’ll happen.”

What keeps him up at night? This was interesting, as I’m discovering or realizing that my private rants are excellent writing material; they are expressions of feelings that need some kind of outlet. Many of my rants are addressed to particular people or groups of people that I want to communicate with but am unable to or have great difficulty doing. Writing these rants has done several things:

  • gets them out of my system
  • allowed me to explore them and develop them – “what’s the real issue here? What do I really want to say?”
  • I’ve discovered its exciting to write about feeling. It’s a kind of free-writing – I don’t worry about organization, relating what I’m saying now to what I said earlier, contradicting myself, repeating myself. Expressing, not editing.

“Blisterning, ranting inner monologues that one has about the state of the world, mostly about politics; mostly about the stupidity of our culture.”

He’s then asked to give an example of a rant, but then he embarrasses himself. You see, just because someone is a writer doesn’t mean their opinion on everything under the sun is going to be superior to most people’s. You see this especially with Hollywood stars: they are often used as mouthpieces because advertisers know that people pay attention when a star talks, and don’t examine what they say too critically.  (Auster’s rant is that healthcare is a right, and before you rush to agree, consider Ayn Rand’s question: at whose expense?)

Bradbury suggested writing about what you love, what you hate, what you’re afraid of. So I did. I started writing about what I hate, as I’d just finished reading a book called “Don’t Do Stuff You Hate” (the title says it all, really, no need to buy the book), and had discovered that, while I’m always complaining about my work, I wasn’t at all clear what it was I hated about it. Bradbury said, “Write to discover your secret self; write to surprise yourself.”

So I did.

I started writing about little things, whatever came to mind. I discovered for instance, that a low table in the corridor outside my office is actually a source of great irritation! I see it every day, but had not paid attention to what I actually feel about it: it bloody annoys me!

In a meeting the other day, I was so bored that I started writing on the back of the meeting agenda. I wrote and wrote and wrote. It was great fun, roasting my colleagues who were sitting right there! Ooh, what a drubbing I gave them. By the time the meeting ended, I was full of energy and not at all bored. I’d found something more interesting to do than feel sorry for myself and complain.

I did the same another day at a lecture I did not want to attend, and while I was waiting, I wrote.  It let off steam and made me feel better. It was actually fun, certainly more fun than the lecture.

As I wrote, tho, some embarrassing but pertinent questions began to raise their heads: how come I work at a place where I’m not my own master? I recalled some highlights of “Don’t Do Stuff You Hate “:

  • doing what you really want to do forces you to stop fooling yourself with bullshit stories about how you don’t have a choice.
  • It’s really difficult to stop doing the things you hate. Because as with everything in life, there’s a price to pay. As long as you keep doing things you hate, you get to experience the reward of having other people feel sorry for you. That’s very addicting.
  • In the more common cases we do stuff we hate simply because we’ve never forced ourselves to examine what we do, why we do it, and what we might do instead.
  • If it doesn’t seem possible to quit X, ask yourself why you’re doing it. “Because I have to” doesn’t count.
  • The real reason you choose to do things you hate is not because you have to. In the worst case, it’s because you hate the perceived alternative even more. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Hmmm. Much food for thought here.

Here’s another interesting insight: when Auster was younger, he tried to create beauty, he thought that’s what an artist’s job was. As he got older, he decided what was more important than creating beauty was to engage with the material, to struggle with it.

Final quote:

“Stories happen to the people who are able to tell them. Many people blunder through life, but if you are paying attention, you might notice things that are very interesting. or unusual. But you have to keep your eyes open. That’s the job or a writer: to keep his eyes open.”

(Total words today: 3,613)


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