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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

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Insert Keyboard Solo Here

It must take some guts to establish oneself as a songwriter. Even songs that are considered artistic achievements are often difficult to take seriously, especially backup lyrics. The “woo-woos” and “bay-bees” sound just right, conveying feeling in quasi-words transported by sound. You’ve got to be bold to write them down then sing them while strumming your acoustic guitar and insisting, “Oh yeah, this will totally work.”

A great song breaks new ground while drawing on listeners’ expectations of what a great song is. If it were completely new, it wouldn’t reach many people. That’s not to say that great songs must have mainstream appeal. But a great song should communicate, otherwise it’s a secret code designed to obfuscate meaning–a great mystery.

This is probably true for any kind of writing. It’s hard to strike a balance between connecting with an audience and retaining your uniqueness. Sometimes I write lines and my internal editor calls me out. “That’s just gratuitous,” xe says (my internal editor is trans). “That line fits, but just barely. You wrote it to show off, didn’t you? You think people are going to laugh with you. Trust me, you’ll get attention, but not the kind you’re after.”

This self-abuse makes me fall in line and cower for a while, because it’s true. I don’t write only for myself anymore. Only in the past few years have I let my guard down. This despite going through undergrad- and grad-level writing programs. That’s just how it was for me. Now, despite what that full-of-shit internal editor says, I don’t feel fraudulent or ridiculous for wanting what I write to be read.

I want to connect, by which I mean I want somehow to be in the writing. Funny how so much writing instruction involves keeping students out of the writing. Teachers tend to say “Do what they’re doing,” pointing to writers–no, authors–who have already proven themselves. To learn form, it’s helpful to study writing that is respected for its effectiveness. Rarely, though, do teachers encourage student writers to acknowledge an investment in the topic. Maybe that’s why a lot of students don’t invest. They’re told they must remain objective, so all they want to do is get the writing done. They fulfill the word quota, but they don’t go back to consider how they might deepen the writing. They’re not getting paid to go deep, so why should they?

Plenty of professional writing attempts to avoid subjectivity, too. The writers come off as level-headed and trustworthy, but I’m left wondering what they really think and feel. I imagine their subtext: “I’m not revealing my extraordinary level of bias that influenced every choice I made in conducting research and developing this report of findings.” Scholarship is inspired by ideas that, no matter how grandiose, come from people with rather specific points of view, even when the writing is done by a group. They have invested time and energy, perhaps for years, and I’m supposed to buy their dispassionate bullshit?

Presumably, they don’t want to sway their readers, as if we don’t know what’s going on. Writers usually reveal when things did not go as they expected, and that’s refreshing. When writers withhold that they’re expectations were met, I become suspicious. I figure they got what they wanted but are trying not to brag. It’s like asking a waiter what he likes best on a menu. He’s reluctant to say anything positive or negative about any particular entree. If he says, “Oh, everything is good,” he’s probably lying. That funny look in his eye is an opinion retreating into darkness.

I know too many academics to believe that they stroll through life unmoved. Emotional reserve is a disguise. For some, it’s armor. If I was an outcast in high school for being a closeted gay kid, I can only imagine the abuse suffered by a kid who doesn’t mind not getting to go to some party because it gives him more time with his chemistry set. People like that grow up having learned to deny how excited they get thumbing through dusty books while wearing white gloves. Or how much they enjoy monitoring the growth of algae under certain conditions. The work excites them, and I want to understand it, but it rarely comes through when they write about it. For those of us who aren’t inherently excited about such things, how are we supposed to join in?

Instead of maintaining a measured, objective tone, they should cut loose in song, or maybe a really self-indulgent keyboard solo. They need to cut the crap, already, instead of hiding their excitement, frustration, whatever. I’m willing to sing backup. Woo-woo. Bay-bee, bay-bee. Now, take it to the bridge.

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One Response

  1. I feel from within when I read what an author writes. Makes no difference whether it is fact or fiction. Convey to me that you feel passionately about what it is you are sharing me, the reader. Convince me I want or even need to read what you have written. Uniqueness and objectiveness is well and good as long as it doesn’t keep author and reader from communicating. What I read tells me whether I will seek out an author for a second or more read. I will know within a respective sampling whether or not I will finish the book or story.
    I have enjoyed your ‘Insert Keyboard Solo Here” very much. It is refreshing to actually agree with an author who feels it is acceptable to enjoy writing and can let their guard down to share a portion of themselves with the reader. I will be checking your Blog on a regular basis.

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