the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Tag: hemingway

Ten things 20-something writers don’t get

by MDY

1. Everyone has a Most Productive Hour. This is the time during which your prose sings without effort. Taking advantage of this time-zone is not always easy. Mine, for example, is between 4 and 5-am.

2. Oxygen is “dangerous”. Some inventor personalities believe that reducing the flow of oxygen to the brain enhances the creative processes. I swim to come up with new ideas because it forces me to focus on my breathing, but do not condone asphyxiation for art’s sake.

3. Hotel pens are the best. It’s not like you can afford a stationery budget on your pay grade, anyway.

4. Conference pens are second best. They tend to splinter if you grip them too hard.

5. Long-form narrative. Is an attitude, not a word-count. Minimalism is all the rage with fiction these days, but you need a special calibre of persistence and perversion to write an epic.  Tolstoy, Homer, and the 12 Disciples didn’t tweet their way to fame.

6. You cannot beat Hemingway at his own game.

7. Bad dreams are healthy. They expunge the dark by-products of the imagination and sometimes inspire new threads of story.

8. Haikus do not count as part of your “creative portfolio”. See #5. Unless they’re calligraphed onto stone, or the side of a famous building.

9. Pulp fiction isn’t trash. I love the science fiction canon of the mid-20th century, and I respect Paullina Simons for making me want to slap Alexander out of his self-sacrifical hubris. Did you know that Arthur C. Clarke’s name encircles the entire planet? A lot of people diss J.K. Rowling for ripping off Tolkien, Lewis, et al, but the same people chortle at what Tom Stearns said about poetic larceny. Read a lot, and get good.

10. You’re nothing special, and yet you are. Everything you write takes you a little closer to your own voice. Your only competition should be your last work. Write not for fame and glory, but because you must and can.



Writing with Feeling

by MDY

Hemingway has no heart. You get the suspicion he always cared more for the words than what they meant: “The first draft is always shit”. Technical mastery, yes, but no heart. It’s hard to write memorably without one or the other, unless you are Hemingway.

The difference between me and a carpenter is what trees we use. I’m inclined to reserve my judgement for the composition of a work, perhaps because it’s far less shameful to puncture than sentiment itself. “Human condition…is this really necessary?” We’re cowards who hide behind our craft.

Sometimes I forget about my reader. A work of masterful technique will make me purr with cleverness, but it’s the old verities put simply – love, honour, pity, et c – which she’ll remember. And remembrance is we crave, we who write. We’re cowards who hope to never die. 

Do writers exist?

by MDY

A year before I finished high school, one of the broadsheets interviewed the state’s most recent doyenne of English examinations. “I’m a writer,” she was quoted as saying, and I knew immediately that she was the antithesis of everything my seventeen-year-old self stood for. Exactly what those things were, I’m not so sure now. I think artistic integrity might have been one of them, but I know integration by parts definitely wasn’t (maths was never my strong point, though I often envied its purposefulness and exotic symbols). I do remember being vehemently opposed to the notion of my being a writer, so much so that upon receiving a daub of prestige in a competition run by that same broadsheet later (or was it earlier?) that year, I would downplay the calibre of my work with a singular aggressiveness whenever it came up in conversation. I didn’t win the competition.

Even now when people ask me what I do, it’s “I write stuff” and not the other thing. The habit runs deep in my neuroses. To me, the term yokes along a whole wagon of personality disorders and bohemian undergarments and a mounting tally of operational expenses like alcohol and extramarital affairs. I fear these things. But there’s a deeper fear too, of being straitjacketed into not just bohemian undergarments which repulse me but any set of undergarments at all. I like being able to switch between sets of underwear, and wash them regularly, and even throw them out with a touch of nostalgia once they’ve obviously passed their wear-by date. And so whenever someone says “I’m a _____” I feel this shameful little tingle of fear mixed with schadenfreude at the fact that I’m not at all like them in their worn-out boxers but at the same time I am.

Five years on, I still write stuff. Despite my best efforts, it’s increasingly the only thing I really do. Improving a craft requires a monopoly time, and that means jettisoning the competition: music, academia, large chunks of social interaction. Not all of it, though. My best words are those of others, plucked from conversations or stories or the walk home past mothballed terraces crowding out the piebald sky. I resist my craft’s efforts to define me because I suspect the moment they do, I will cease to have anything to write about. A facility with words opens many doors, much like a facility containing many battering rams. It’s a powerful tool but nothing more, and I intend for it to stay that way. Writing can be who you are, but better, I think, to keep it as what you do.