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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.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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Blood and Rainbows

I feel tentative about reading other writers’ blogs because when their writing is really strong, I get a little depressed. It’s sort of the “wish-I’d-written-that” syndrome, but not necessarily that simple. Reading good writing makes me feel and think with such intensity that I have to stop reading for a while.

There’s something inspiring about that kind of experience. Case in point: I read “Blood Poem” by Lee Houck on his blog Grammar Piano, and for a minute or two wondered why I should bother to write a poem ever again.

Then the feeling transformed. I felt determined to begin writing a poem as quickly as possible. Level of quality didn’t matter. I just had to get back on the horse. Continue reading

Go Praise Yourself

Confession: I like some of my writing. Sometimes as I revise, I enjoy what I’m reading even though I’ve written it. I even like some of the stuff I wrote a long time ago. Not all of it. As with any writer’s work, I read my own critically, especially the personal stuff, concerned I’ve crossed the line between healthy exhibitionism and neurotic self-disclosure. But that’s the point, isn’t it, of developing skills as a writer: to write interesting things that people will read willingly and not only because they have assigned you to write them?

Writers tend to throw their younger writing selves under buses, and they do it willingly. “Oh, god, I can’t believe that story got published,” they might say. “It’s terrible. I hadn’t found my voice.” Occasionally, they go further, telling you how much their writing used to suck and how hearing it read makes them want to jab their eardrums with a fountain pen. You wonder if you will soon witness some Greek-tragedy-style violence and hope their self-hatred doesn’t take a sudden turn outward. The self-deprecation creates a cycle, leading to the next line: “My work is much stronger now.” There is usually a pause, and sometimes a self-conscious chuckle. “At least I hope my work is stronger now.” Is this their main point? Or are you supposed to say something to ensure their personal drama ends happily?

Maybe they just want to be honest; in their search for truth, they know they are not exempt. But they’re also revealing insecurities, which can be an admirable thing to do, but to do so in response to praise of their work is unsettling, selfish, and, well, a little rude.

To be fair, I have done this kind of thing myself, Continue reading

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