2-I discovered Michael Erard today. He's an author, journalist, and linguist. He also wrote an interesting article once for the New York Times about escaping your own shadow when you write. Two things about this article:
(1) I loved this quote: "I'm a dancer who walks for a living." (Aren't we all, Michael? Aren't we all?) (Maybe not all of us--I think Charlie Sheen may just have discovered the magic to dancing through life for a living.)
(2) Structural priming/Syntactic persistence: you repeat patterns you've read or said earlier in your own writing (and, I guess, talking since we're dealing with language here). Basically: don't read or write anything you don't want to repeat later in your own writing. Turn off the Web (Michael! What?!?!) No email, no twitter, no facebook, no blogs, no books, no essays, no newspaper articles, no nothin'. Before you write. Because it'll pattern up in your brain, and your brain will want to write stuff like it just saw on that one friend's Facebook status update in your newsfeed and that friend can't spell for shite, so don't do it! Do Not Do It.
Which I think is (a) good, sound advice, (b) really hard to do, and (c) I'm going to try it, but poop, Michael Erard, do you understand how frickin' HARD this will be for me and my addictive personality to come to grips with? Man.
Please note: Michael Erard has an open invitation to any summer barbeque at my house from now until infinity. He sounds much smarter than Charlie Sheen, and--just going off from what I perused briefly on his website--I like him. We could smack mosquitoes off our arms and legs and talk story well into the evening, gorging on ribs and smoked chicken legs. (I hope he's not a vegan.)
(3) Jason Isaacs. I discovered him much earlier than today, and have written at length about my
Anyway, I digress. One of the reasons I am most drawn to this man (besides the British accent and wolf-like blue eyes) is that, in many interviews, he talks a lot about storytelling, and people who worry about storytelling are exactly the kinds of people I like to invite over for barbeques and sit on my back porch with, getting eaten up by mosquitoes, talking shop. He talks about what good storytelling is and isn't, and that makes me want to clean his toilets for him and I hate toilet cleaning.
Here, according to Mr. Isaacs (via my summarization and interpretation of several interviews I've watched or read) is what good storytelling is:
(1) You start with a "what if?" question and go from there.
(2) In the process, you spend much of your time building character, and you build character by attempting to figure out what makes people tick: what makes people fall in/out of love? what makes people hate? why do good people do bad things and vice versa? etc etc.
So here's my thing about this: I have a lot of "what if?" questions, and it sounds like that's a good start. My personal irony is that I'm asked--all damn day long--a lot of "what if?" questions by people under the age of 10 (including one under the age of 5) who craft stories much the same way crazed monkeys like to throw feces at each other, which means me hearing any phrase starting with the words "what if..." is sure to make my right eye start twitching wildly.
Although, now that I've written all that, I suppose I should and could do a writing craft lesson on using your "what if?" questions as a spring board to write a really good personal narrative. "What if we're just in the bathroom doing our business and a big 5th grader comes in and starts throwing toilet paper at our heads?" (actual "what if?" question I recently received) would make an excellent premise for a really interesting coming of age story, I bet.
(4) My fifth metatarsal. It's still broken, but I'm allowed to walk on it in regular shoes. I go back in a few days for some (hopefully) final x-rays. It slightly aches if I'm on it too long, but it doesn't hurt, and I'm told it may never really heal. Even so, I'll be able to walk, hop, run, etc on it because it's pretty solid and not going anywhere. If it starts hurting, I'll probably have to have a pin put in it. I'm fine with this, and just joyous to have both feet back on the ground and the use of both hands while upright again. I will never, ever take walking for granted again. I will never, ever climb a fence again...okay, maybe if it's the Apocalypse and there's fresh, clean water on the other side of a fence. But other than that, no! I have softly closed the chapter on my climbing fences dreams. Sometimes dreams must die.
(5) School has begun again. I am tired. I am tired, exhausted, knackered, wasted, drained, fagged, faint, fatigued, empty, played out, petered out, pooped, run down, haggard, overtaxed, tuckered, done in and done for, worn out, and really really droopy. Sundays are sad, and Mondays are so so hard. I am, at this point, one of those people who works to live for the weekend. Jason Isaacs had something to say about that, too, in this video I saw on YouTube, and I felt wistful and not a little bit jealous of him at the end of it.
We'd talk about that, too, on my back porch while eating barbeque. I'd ask for his advice on how to find a vocation that is what you love (particularly one in the arts, which are notoriously hard to break into and make a decent wage at), and then we'd ask Michael Erard for his thoughts as well, and also to please pass the citronella spray.