FREE YOURSELF OF MOTIVES

The past couple days I finally got in touch with an old friend of mine. We exchanged a couple emails, and I ended up writing her a light-hearted note that was designed to renew our old friendship, which I had recalled with some pretty fond memories. I asked her about her life, and how odd the current path of her life would have looked to her younger self (as would anyone’s I assume), and she threw me back a hostile bitter retort that could only be considered adversarial and a little mean. I sent her back, what I considered, a gracious response, and told her that I thought we had become so different that even a meeting of the minds would be pushing it, much less a friendship of any kind. But as all good writers do, I thought about this correspondence, decided that this exchange was more about goals than anything, and how dangerous it was to have motive and intent when writing.

I knew she was religious, and not religious like your mom and dad are at Christmas Midnight Mass, but religious like I think she’d be comfortable protesting the funerals of people who die of AIDS. I, being so innocently arrogant as I am sometimes, thought that perhaps the reason she went to the dark side (and offense deliberate … people who protest AIDS funerals are assholes, although I have on way of knowing that she was a face in that crowd) was because she fell out of touch with me. I thought that if I could just give her a bit of Kael’s loving, I would be able to turn her back around, and she would be the wonderful friend I used to know. I thought my amazing ability as a writer and this wondrous letter, would dissuade her from her current life. Obviously I was wrong.

And here’s where I talk about writing. I wrote her a great letter full of sarcasm and wit that the world has yet to appreciate, but she twisted it and turned it into something else. There are two things I learned from this exchange, and I’ll only talk about one of them today … one is know your audience (which will be the subject of another blog), but the other is to avoid goals. I know, it sounds contrary to everything we’ve been taught. I mean after all, if you’re reading my blog you think you’re a pretty good writer, and with that you feel you’ve got a bit of power tucked underneath that keypad of yours, and goddamn it, you should exercise it! Well I disagree. I think that exercising this great power of yours is a recipe for disaster.

The problem with this great power of yours, is that it’s one sided … you have a one way ticket into someone’s psyche, and once it’s in there, there’s no outlet. It just keeps bouncing and bouncing around in a world of events and experiences that you haven’t the slightest clue about. You think you have all this control when you sit down to write something, and lets face it, you kind of think that you have some manipulation skills resting latent in your bones, but I’m here to tell you this; you have no control. You have no idea what your words are going to mean to someone else. Your words could drive someone to find a new truth, be uncomfortable, or do absolutely nothing. What you write is static, and human thoughts are erratic. It was like my letter to my friend. I wanted so much to show her that I was still that light hearted guy she loved so much when we were young, and she took the letter, which WAS light hearted (I mean lets face it, this boy can write), and turned it into my living my life without regard to others, and indigent to responsibility. Now it’s not that any of that stuff isn’t true, I mean I can’t even own a dog for fear I’ll forget about the thing one weekend, and kill it, but it’s certainly wasn’t the intend of the letter. I probably should have written her a thoughtful letter about my life, and not tried to tie her thoughts up in mind.

I took this writing class once and I spent the entire year making fun of people who wrote stories with little puzzles to solve. They would lace their stories with stupid metaphors and analogies that were meant to make me say … Aha! I really hate those stories. Unless your story is a mystery, you’re not Aesop, and these aren’t fables with moral at the end (unless they are), now I’m not saying I’ve never done it, because I have (and I’ll post one of those “message” stories in the next couple says so you can see for yourself how annoying they are), and it’s not that they’re not temping to write, but they’re trite, and below your writing skills. I’m also not saying that you work should be without message or direction, because it should … I’m saying it should be free of motive and intent. It’s also disrespectful of your reader, by the way.

You need to trust the reader with your material. You need to tell a story, and nothing else. You don’t need to post your views about George Bush; you don’t need to tell a veiled story about a Texas Governor who is corrupt or anything stupid like that because it insults the very people you want to invite into your mind. I think the best writers are ones who write outside their box. I think the best writers are those whose stories say something, but the voice is my own. What I take away from it belongs to me, and not the writer. I told you in a recent blog that I have gone back and reread a lot of books I read as a teenager and young adult and found new meanings in them, but what I didn’t tell you was that all the meanings were personal and private, and writer probably didn’t know a thing about. When Salinger wrote Franny and Zooey he probably didn’t know that Kael was going to have a crisis of faith and existence. He probably didn’t know that I would take comfort from those stories. He just wrote a story about Franny.

The answer to some of the most complex questions are often simple, so keep your writing simple (but complex), and stay on the target of telling a story rather than changing someone’s mind. By the way, you’ll probably do that anyways.

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