The Vault Part 4: TWEDYAPATCTGIY”NIP”AITDGICTBEVH?
November 18, 2011
I’ve been in Jamaica for three weeks now, this is the start of Week 4. The first week was simply lost to sunbathing and decompressing. Which in Leone World means periods of actual happiness, albeit studded with neurosis.
Which leads me to the point of today’s lecture, Boys and Girls.
To Wit: To What Extent Do You Allow People And Their Crap To Get Into Your Novel-In-Progress (“NIP”) And If They Do Get In, Can They Be Even Vaguely Helpful? (TWEDYAPATCTGIY”NIP”AITDGICTBEVH?)
I used to be very clear on this matter: I sneered at thinly-disguised autobiography dressed up as fiction. Cynical and lazy, I called it. I mean, could you bother yourself to actually think up a plot? Apart from the laziness, I was also worried about the potential for self indulgence and the threat of litigation. Taken together, I had decided that ‘real’ writers do NOT do overtly obvious self-referential. It was a cheat and such writers should be burned at the stake...
Then The Inevitability of Strooops came along.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I was never claiming that my writing had nothing to do with me, and came out of some candy-floss place called Pure Imagination. Of course all my writing is about me and my stuff, in conscious and unconscious ways. It’s an effort to prove a point (or several points) to make various political, psychological and even aesthetic arguments (‘yay, similes’, for example, or, since it’s me, ‘yay: sex’). I’ve included snippets of real life, overheard conversations and a couple of anecdotes from childhood, so shoot me. But let’s say I was never going to do a Terri McMillan (respect, my sister, but h-e-l-lo - we know how your got your groove back and then where it went and who it slept with and we are so terribly sorry for you).
Then, as I said, Strooops. Oh dear god. It is utterly autobiographical. Everything that’s happened in the past 40 years, certainly in the context of my love life plus, bits and pieces that just happen day to day. I’m growing my hair - a character in the novel has supernaturally growing hair; I went to a play yesterday and watched a man picking his nose in a truly original way - yep, page 78; the lead’s a chef, and everything I eat in Jamaica’s what he cooks. But these are harmless things. They may even add integrity and immediacy.
But then something entirely darker can creep in.
Let’s just say I am furious with a certain gentleman at the moment.
And yep, he just got pages 103-107, where I ripped him apart, set the dogs on him and made some extremely bitchy (and untrue) suggestions about his...well, let’s just say, his character and leave it at that. And this is by no means the only time I’ve written about real people and what they’ve done to me in this lovely big book. In fact, I have pretty much written (almost word for word) the meat and matter of several lovers and their business. My girlfriends will recognise them and CREASE up with laughter, and well, the ladies and gents in question may ALSO recognise themselves. Not so much because they agree with my conclusions, but because the circumstances are exactly the same as they were (as in, place and form and time and narrative order). Their mums may not see them for who they are, but they will know themselves. You know that thing you put at the start of a book about any resemblance to any real person living or dead? Well, let’s just say I am slightly fucked, cos I really just...can’t swear to that. Richard, Perline, Scott, Leonard, yeah, it’s all you (those aren’t their names by the way...sorry, I would not do a Perline...)
But there’s another point: while my conclusions about motivation and intent may be my own (and my exes may acknowledge that I’m entitled to do THAT) the fact is that with this particular gent who attracted my wrath today, it’s a step further on. What I’ve written is bitchy conjecture specifically designed to make me feel better and to wreak revenge. I’m even thinking about it this way: he has a few weeks to redeem himself, or the pages STAY.
Now what I want to know is: is that OK?
Do I just get to do that?
Cause I just did.
And it seems to pass the Writing Litmus Test. What I mean is: what I’ve included fits. It fits for plot; the wrath is right for the character; it moves the narrative along; in fact, if I don’t take it right back out very soon, and I keep writing, I may not be ABLE to take it out because it’ll become an integral part of the architecture.
So should I just thank the Writing Gods, consider it inspiration, and move on?
Damnit, I can’t. Even as I write this, I know I can’t. Not because I am a wonderfully moral person (o so not - too Cancerian and moody for THAT) but simply because I might change my mind later. And then the damn thing’s in print and it’s TOOOO LATE. And um...the person might read it and be angry or hurt. And I’m a wuss.
In the meantime, I’m still pissed and hurt and confused. Isn’t one of the advantages of literature that you can get revenge? And if he thinks it’s him (in fact, if any of them think it’s them) can’t I just pull that ‘You’re So Vain/I bet you think this scene is about you’ defense?
Nah. The writing I’ve done is too specific. It’s personal, hurt, self conscious stuff that should be kept private in a diary. Even though this person seems profoundly unconscious about the effect of his actions, you never know. He might just know exactly what he’s doing to upset me and be getting off on it. And if that’s true, then I have just given the hugest ego boost to an asshole. Or: he might be my future friend. Or husband. And the publication of my bile might scupper all that...
Oh god, I have got to go delete pages 103-107.
I might need to delete this blog...
Don’t publish autobiographical rage, Boys and Girls. Eventually you realise all you just done did was turn the microscope on YOU, not them.
I knew the answer to my own question all the time: I say it to my students constantly. Literature is not just a self-indulgent wank-fest; it’s craft.
So. To What Extent Do You Allow People And Their Crap To Get Into Your NIP And If They Do Get In, Can They Be Even Vaguely Helpful?
Sure. It is helpful to feel your own rage and to write from that space. Just put it down somewhere private and go back to it in three weeks or three months, and mine gold from it. You know: remind yourself you’ve felt the detail of this emotion and now you can actually objectify that information and use it.
For good, not evil. I think. :-)
2014 UPDATE: The Inevitability of Strooops is now called This One Sky Day.