I used to think writing involved mess.
I’ve been editing an old story, reviving it and laughing at my old habits: elongated metaphors, abstract actions, absurdist excuses and alienated narratives. Nothing ever connected. The reader had nowhere to be.
Looking back at old work, it’s like I was less interested in telling stories and more interested in arranging words on a page in a way that would cause some kind of guttural connection.
More like, mess.
I was an ok writer but I was always fatigued.
I’d rush ideas, quit on them, leave them messy. Almost everything I wrote was quick and energized. The honesty in my writing gained an audience. The ferocity of my writing polarized critics. Lots of people “didn’t get it.”
But, I loved writing because it seemed to stifle feelings of alienation and what’s life about other than to gather the sensation that we’re relevant, supported and generally ok? Even when people didn’t get it, I felt better materializing my feelings as writing.
As my little beautiful audience has grown, I’ve realized that I may be stifling my ability to connect and reduce alienation further by leaving my work chaotic and maybe a little too strange.
Chaotic and strange was my JAM. Probably because I had no idea who I was, what to do with myself or how to be happy.
I’ve grown more accepting of myself over the years. Several things help: love, fitness, dogs, time. I have more energy now. I have the energy to enjoy structure and craft and to have fun playing in the writing sandbox instead of just lying in it for a while, falling asleep and walking away dirty.
It’s ok to be messy. I will always be messy. So, here’s a list of things I think messy writers should consider, in case we’re stuck in a phase where only a few people like our work.
QUESTIONS FOR MESSY WRITERS
If you’re concerned that your reader “won’t get it,” interrogate your piece with these questions. NOTE: You do not have to control your story.
- What’s the story? — It might help to talk yourself through this one. Is there a beginning, middle, end? Or, are you following a 5 act structure? Is it linear? Is it circuitous? Volcanic? Gummy? Whatever…anything you want.
- Who is the main character? LIKE, KNOW THEM INSIDE AND OUT. Take a day with them, walk around your house, your city, your street. And then, walk around their world with them. If your piece is an essay about YOU, make sure you know yourself well enough to write on the topic. Because, believe me, I have tried to write without answers and it is a scary MESS.
- What does your character want more than anything in the world?—Your character needs motivation, stakes and obstacles, EVEN IF THEY ARE NOT PRESENT IN THE STORY.
- Are you in this deep enough?—Don’t rush. Get weird. Get into it with the world you’re building. All the senses. All the images. Write songs. Write poems. Write monologues. Write manifestos. Write whatever you can think of to obsess over your piece. You will find material to clean up the messy corners you would have otherwise tried to ignore.