W. P. Johnson

Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

How a Wolf Collects

In Uncategorized on September 30, 2009 at 7:39 pm

What kind of person writes exactly? Do you see a reclusive drunk kicking back the last of his beer after having just gotten home from a bar where some random unmentionable gave him a hand job under the table? Or is he a pipe smoking academic, involved in the community, but dragging behind him a bizarre history of war, childhood trauma, or a lost relationship that eclipses every moment of his life?

I fall more in the range of isolated drunk, though have cut back considerably on the drinking part. But it begs the question- is this a problem or am I living appropriately for my goals? Am I justifying antisocial behavior for the sake of art or am I just antisocial and looking for excuses to not face something I find uncomfortable? Maybe the shoe fits… but it’s starting to rot and split apart.

You can’t write about life if you haven’t lived it. Similarly you can’t write about people unless you’re around them, unless you develop relationships that are worth while, friendships worth keeping. Who are all of my characters but versions of myself if I don’t leave my desk every now and again and listen in on the buzz of barflies? A writer has to start a collection. He can read about and research his subject all he wants, but in the end, authenticity stems from real people, real experiences.

Which isn’t to say I haven’t had real experiences. I have. And isolation, the complexity of loneliness, this too is a subject worth writing about is it not? But other people prompt new approaches to ideas, problems, and they spark new emotions. They provide new stories. The only conflict I find is where do I draw the line on how I approach other people? Is the world and my own life perpetually whored out for research purposes? Does every goddamn moment have to end up as dialogue or a plot point in a story I’m working on? At what point am I taking something from someone that belongs to them, something that’s their story?

Recently on a writer’s workshop someone posted a new thread about the experience of adolescence. He wanted to know if anyone had any interesting anecdotes about growing up, a hazing or initiation rite, a bully they remembered, a prank pulled by themselves or others. He was researching, collecting stories in order to build up his characters, beef up his plot.

Reading the thread, I became immediately annoyed. I thought to myself, “You’re a writer… think up something on your own.” I stand by this comment. But the conflict is, what if he had posted a thread regarding an unusual experience, such as that of a funeral home director, or a doctor, or a soldier? We all had to go to school and deal with bullies, pranks, hazings. But not many people I know have worked on carnivals.

How does the bully understand the wedgie if he doesn’t ask?

For me, nothing is more frustrating than a writer that takes someone else’s story  and cuts, pastes, inserts it in his own work. There is no honor in it, no sense of immortalizing the subject- people remember the author, not the inspiration for his stories. It’s a disgusting practice to collect the stories of people the same way you would baseball cards in hopes that a few of them will be worth while.

Still… how do you not write about other people? How do you hear someone talk about their experience of witnessing a murder and not write about it? Sometimes something is so big, it’s all you can think about, all you can talk about. People are a conduit to the world at large. Everything is just at the fingertips.

I’m comfortable while alone. With the exception of a few people, I often prefer the company of my laptop or a book. Still, it isn’t helpful to me as a writer to draw characters out of thin air or from other books. Forget about whether or not it’s unhealthy in regards to my emotional state. I’ve been a lone wolf for a very long time. But I used to drink a lot at night just to fall asleep and every time I hit the mattress without a single word typed. So if it was a night for writing, I didn’t drink.  Now… I have to give up the comfort of isolation. To know people.

Then, once I’ve collected enough, I can return back to my cave and start laying out the skins to dry.