On writing aesthetics: brutal intellectual honesty

Last week I finished reading a selection of essays published in 2011 by the late Christopher Hitchens in his book Arguably. I’ve known his word for over a decade and was a fan of his regular TV news show appearances before he fell ill. He brought something to those TV shows and his published works that I found both refreshing and rare amongst the modern day news media: brutal honesty.

I have been a long time advocate of writing honestly in both my professional and creative lives. When a writer holds back emotions, facts, details – anything – it’s blatantly obvious to any reader. Sometimes a reader may not know why something feels inauthentic, but the resulting uneasiness of having spent five or twenty minutes on a piece that feels dishonest is nothing short of time wasted and a lost audience.

Fortunately, I’ve have a good run of reading material lately. I haven’t felt the need to question any author’s honesty in quite some time. There is something unique about reading Hitchens, though, that goes beyond authenticity. I was granted a peak into his posthumous psyche by way of his essays, a much deeper and more intimate experience that I normally encounter. He took controversial stands on sensitive subjects, particularly with religion, like deconstructing the Ten Commandments – of which there are four different versions, I learned. His candid perspectives were well-informed, thorough, and unapologetic. And often laced with wit and humor.

This fawning over Christopher Hitchens’s work doesn’t mean I will devote my personal aesthetic to copying him. I don’t care to to be viewed as a curmudgeon who writes scathing book reviews or regarded by many as a polarizing figure on religion or politics. So let me be clear. Hitchens has been and always will be a personal inspiration in terms of creative and succinct prose, and of brutal intellectual honesty. If there is anything I can emulate in my writing it is this. Along with the ability to piss off people when I know I’m right and the satisfaction that accompanies it.

Exploration

Sunrise over East River, NYC

It’s been over four months since I last posted on here. A lot has happened since April. Most significantly, my daughter had corrective brain/spinal surgery from which she has fully recovered, thankfully. We’ve persevered during these difficult months and good things are finally beginning to happen.

My focus has returned to honing writing style and voice while exploring topics for my MFA thesis including creativity, fear, and motivation. And of course, writing dark fiction occupies my free time.

So why am I sharing these thoughts with the world?

I just finished reading a great book on motivation – Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink – which resonates quite well with my professional experiences. I’ve always found it hard to dedicate my time to a job I didn’t care about, even more so if I felt there was no greater purpose than collecting a meager paycheck at the end of the week. This got me thinking about my writing: what motivates me to write about certain subjects, what breaks me out of self-imposed episodes of writer’s block, where my ideas come from, and so on. Furthermore, why I am so focused on writing about the creativity vs. fear thing, the topic of my thesis. Sure, both are fascinating subjects on their own, but there is a much deeper rooted thing here, which I am beginning to investigate.

Over the next few months I will explore these items and more on this blog. And I invite any readers to share your thoughts and experiences on these topics as they relate to fiction and nonfiction. Topics include but are not limited to: creativity, innovation, fear, motivation, work culture, and writing/working environment. If you’re willing, I may include some of your stories in my thesis/book.

Overcoming A Negative Outlook

I’ve been in a rut lately. Creative writing has not been easy. Blog, fiction, my non-fiction book; the word challenge is an understatement. You might call it writer’s block. I call it work-related stress, grief over losing my beloved grandmother recently, and overall chaos that has pervaded my life lately. Staring at TV shows and zoning out to mindless puzzle games at night has never appealed so much, until it bothered me that time was wasting away on frivolity. Then something happened this week.

A co-worker read my blog entry “The Antithesis of Creativity.” She was floored, in her words; she said she had read it at exactly the right time. She printed it out so her husband could read it that night, I understand he’s going through some tough times too when it comes to employment, as several of my friends are in the same situation. She wanted him to read it to help change his outlook.

This knowledge, that I had this affect on someone with words and thoughts I wrote a few months ago, changed my outlook. Inspiration has returned just in time. My friend and coworker’s words came to me at exactly the right time. I have a busy year of writing ahead of me.

Elusive Focus

What to write? So many ideas, so little time to record them all. They ebb and flow, some stick, others slip back into the ocean. Focus is key, when I can find it. Focus with the ability to filter. I often find my focal point is a puddle of pulsating slime, not very clear, as you could imagine. It slithers as only slime can along a broken concrete and dirt floor, eluding me when I need it most. And when do I need it most? Now.

Here I am, fixated on closing a story for the second time. The first closing opened new doors. Funny how that works. This welcome weight I have hoisted over my shoulders, carrying it on end much like a Scottish games competitor, I am working desperately for the sake of my sanity to bring closure to this story again. Now my focus is a twelve-foot maple tree trunk I need to throw as far as possible. Without damaging anything.

My focus is damaged. It just is. I have no explanation. It reminds me of the astigmatism I used to have in both eyes – I had Lasik. Unfortunately, Lasik doesn’t sharpen conscious thought. It morphs from one form to another without warning, sometimes holding my subconscious hostage as my superego tells it it’s not very nice and should stop that. Yeah, that superego is too gentle, too nice, too outside of my general area of focus. Is that what it is? Attention deficit?

As I sit here tapping out S-O-S in Morse code, for all the wrong trivial reasons, I am crystalizing my ideas, my intent to close the story, or at least current storyline. That more than likely is the thing that is stirring my brain non-stop: the story is not meant to be short. It has become a living entity, and I need to nurture it some more before I drop it off a cliff where it will return to its primordial ooze state of self-being. Or as I like to call it, the slime found on smooth rocks covered in algae and mollusks. What am I writing?

A Semi-Subconscious Self Portrait

Drawing inspiration from the mundane, regular, everyday type of stuff that surrounds us; average, unnoticed, omnipresent. That’s where I find the strange, the scary, the peculiar, the horrific. Much like the carnival sideshows of decades past, showcasing oddities and mysteries, my brain is both spectator and showman when I write. That sounds so esoteric and pompous, I suppose, so ridiculous yet it defines my creative process. I can only be egalitarian to a point, as far as my humble nature allows before I fall victim to self-induced humility and fall into that downward spiral that is routine nature.

Somehow, this rambling makes sense to my subconscious and my ego is enthralled. One day I may learn a thing or two from my subconscious, the distant world where all of my creativity stems from. It’s the well-fertilized part of my being, complete with a robust composting system providing nourishment and enrichment.

Confused? Me too, maybe to a lesser degree. This is my brain in raw action, after all, translated into words that a reader can understand.

Otherwise, if my mind was to get with the program, the doldrums of everyday work and life becomes the routine norm where innovation is scoffed at and free expression is shunned. The thick skin of humility blockades the acceptance of compliments, accolades, and accomplishments. We accept only what we have been taught in school about being nothing more than a number in the system, a little cog in a great machine, the pawn the corporation sees as expendable and thrown into the basement to work next to the boiler room. These things really happen, some figuratively, some literally, others fictional. You get the point. I think.