Living for the Revel (catvalente) wrote,
Living for the Revel

  • Mood:

Poetry Is the Blood-Jet

That used to be my favorite way to describe my writing. It's a line from Sylvia Plath. I felt it encapsulated everything. I just cut my veins open and bled onto a page. And it was true. I didn't think about technique or structure or anything like that. I did it all by instinct, wheeling through by the set of my pants--really, as though some long silver line was attached to my waistband, holding me up so that I could barely touch the earth with my toes, dragging me along so fast I could barely keep up. It made me happy to write like that. It felt honest and visceral. It felt bloody and raw and real.

Trouble with writing like that, though, is that eventually, you bleed out.

My early career, which was not a career at all, but a lot of me not understanding why dinky college mags didn't want to publish my poetry, was entirely wrapped up in confessional poetry. I had a lot to confess. The blood-technique worked for me--especially since I was mainly writing when I was feeling sanguine. A terrible relationship that became a worse marriage, a comically awful childhood, and various traumas fueled my work, and pretty often, that work was pretty good.

But there's really no way for a working writer to go around with their veins open all the time. There is simply too much work. Eventually, you run out of confessional. A couple of armfuls of books are as good as decades of therapy. Of course, new trauma comes along, but once you get to a certain point, there is no way to re-traumatize yourself and drag up the same hurts every day to pour onto the page--firstly, it means spending all your time in a state of emotional exhaustion, and second, it just won't be as good anymore. Like drugs, you need more to get to the same place, after awhile. You can't rise to the same heights as the first time you wrote about your stepmother cracking your head against the wall, or your girlfriend leaving you for a man. It won't be as raw, it will even start to feel tired. Even the most horrific of experiences can become pedestrian after being evoked over and over. Ask an actor--the sense memory that could reliably make them cry on command at twenty just doesn't have the same punch at forty.

On top of that, anthologies and magazines will be so very rude--they'll ask for stories on the topics they're covering, not my personal grief. And my workload these days is several stories a month, even before getting to the novels.

So where does that leave me? Because I also don't believe in writing hacky stories about the news item of the week just to sell it/make wordcount/have a publication this month. I've been feeling odd about this lately, as I've had a rash of very specific story requests: New Weird, please! Fairy tale villain! Science fiction space opera! Pulpy steampunk! YA vampire story! How do I take those and make them real and emotionally honest, how do I make them cut close to the bone when my private travails just don't translate so well to contemporary lesbian werewolf tales? I feel guilty, that I can't always find a real-life experience to lay on top of the genre shiny and make with the mythpunk every single time. I remember when poetry was the blood jet. Was I better then, purer?

I don't think I was. I think we all evolve. And sooner or later, one way or another, I was going to have to find another way.

I thought about this a lot while writing the pulp steampunk story. Because damn did I not have any deep-seated emotional horror to exorcise that would swash its clockwork buckle.

But I did have a lot of feelings about steampunk. Bitterness and frustration, for one. Admiration, lust and disappointment, for others. They were deep, complex feelings. And I could make a story out of that. Brain is just as valid as blood, as heart. In every assignment, I have to find the thing that makes my pulse quicken--and it isn't always expunging some past pain any more. Short stories are for me much more often than not assignments, though novels are the unconstrained, freedom-loving hippies of my eternal colony. They answer to nobody but themselves.

Of course, sometimes it is. One of my poems up for the Rhysling this year is anguish in a column.

Ten years ago I would have been horrified to hear myself say these things--writing is only valid if it is the blood-jet, right? There is definitely a school of thought that that's the case. Of course, people have been telling me I can't write well if I write fast, or while being young, or while bleeding in that very fashion. It's amazing how often I used to hear about the ironclad rules of being a writer. Part of me hates even writing this post. It's taken me hours. But I think part of growing up as a writer is learning to use your whole body, all your tools, learning how to start with bleeding on the page, but not end there, to shape and craft that flow into something more complex than pure miasma. And sometimes learning how to start with something other than your own personal history, how to tell other people's stories. How to expand your capabilities beyond the confessional. I think this is especially important when it comes to creating characters who are more than an obvious mirror of the author. I think I'm a better writer for these things--certainly one more able to make deadlines. I don't think I've lost anything--I've gained, if anything, a measure of control I didn't have before.

Though most, I think, would say that it's a cut-brakeline on a race car kind of control, even now.

Don't get me wrong--I write pretty nakedly most of the time and always have. Always will. It wasn't so long ago I wrote this, and I still agree with every word of it. I'm never going to stop being myself. I think if you know me well enough, you can trace the parts of my real life that flicker and stretch through all my fiction. Even the occasional story about winemaking still comes from my obsessions, my need to create complex systems. But I'm not just writing out my innards anymore, without a care for anything beyond pretty words and private flagellation. Writing about pulpy steampunk from a totally different perspective than I'm used to, having to go to another place to fulfill my obligation to the publication, made me realize how far I've come, how different my process is now--like making lace instead of just knitting and purling. I think, now, I'm a laboratory desgined to channel and transmogrify the blood-jet, to extend a metaphor. I've got a lot further to go--at best I'm in my second stage as a writer. I can't say what the next step is, the next iteration.

But if I weren't fascinated by my own evolution, I wouldn't be a writer at all.

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

← Ctrl ← Alt
Ctrl → Alt →
← Ctrl ← Alt
Ctrl → Alt →