I flipped through half a dozen old journals last night. Since many people only know the one thing about me, that I write, I get notebooks as gifts all the time. Gift books tend to be decorative, so pretty, but not ideal. I need ugly books that I can fold up, rip apart, bend inhumanely. The book itself is not the art.
It dawned on me how little I work on my Serious Literature. I’m at a point where I have publishable short stories that would surely knock an associate editor’s teeth out, but I’m too lazy to submit. Let’s not even talk about the last time I started a new story.
Writing comedy has changed my writing habits for the better, though. I’ve gotten more conscientious about rewriting. Like most writers, I’m guarded about my work. I don’t trust anyone to give me good feedback on second drafts. I’m more self-conscious about second drafts than first drafts. First drafts are always shit. (I say that as an arrogant piece of shit who’s had first drafts published.) Writing and performing jokes means rewriting the same thing many times, either pen-to-paper or just in my head. I don’t give myself the time or the comfort of self-consciousness. I wasted too many years in that chamber. In a technical sense, my joke rewriting involves small tweaks; I creep up on a concept with small soundless steps. My prose rewriting involves larger changes in angles; I charge at it, running until the field disappears beneath my feet and I have to try again.
Yesterday I got around to reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s a tidy little book about writing that made me think about my own processes. One excerpt stuck out to me:
My Al-Anon friend told me about the frazzled, defeated wife of an alcoholic man who kept passing out on the front lawn in the middle of the night. The wife kept dragging him in before dawn so the neighbors wouldn’t see him, until finally an old black woman from the South came up to her one day after a meeting and said, “Honey? Leave him lay where Jesus flang him.” And I am slowly in my work – and even more slowly in real life – learning to do this.