People like to tout about Nietzsche quotes as if the guy weren’t a prolific author who, by virtue of having a staggering mind, often contradicted himself. His philosophy is something much different from Plato’s “THE ONLY WORTHY GOVERNMENT IS ONE BY A PHILOSOPHER-KING!” N’s philosophy is a bit more like a labyrinth – twists, turns, and, at the end (if there can really be an end to a philosophy), a pretty big reward for gathering some meaning from it. Leaving the maze, if we’re keeping to the metaphor.
But I’m not here to post about Neeters (as his friends called him) in a general sense – I’m talking about one quote in particular – that one about how the act of creating requires inner conflict. Or something like that – the thing about quoting translations is that you run into different wordings of the same thing. Still, you know what I mean.
In my experience, the sort of people who like to use that term aren’t so much writers as fans of Nietzsche. They populate vast tracts of writers’ workshops, churn out long treatises about the shallowness of modern living, wear black, and, on the side, read a lot of Gore Vidal and Noam Chomsky. You may have had some interaction with them in the classroom, thought about how strange it is that they never really write anything, and then – a couple of years later – meet them in a coffee place.
“Hey man,” you say, expertly hiding the fact that you hated them two years ago. “How’ve you been doing? Still writing?”
The answer is almost a universal constant. “No. There just wasn’t anything happening anymore.”
Or something to that effect. You may get something like they could never get published – or they found their true calling in video installation art – or they started writing [shiver] poetry. Whatever the case, it’s no big loss to the world of words. There are entirely too many writers and magazines out there who focus on the same old tired exhausted sighs resulting from the sudden realization of the vapidity of modern life. That retail is (shocking) not perfectly compatible with their dreams.
Look, I get it. It’s retail. You’re not getting paid a fortune to sit around, look bemused, and jot down the occasional paragraph of Franzen-clone fiction. I’m not a fan of it either. But, again, this isn’t what this post is about.
This post is about The Process.
The people who write about the vapidity of modern life don’t get The Process. (Okay, there are some that do. There are some whitewashed-MFA-fiction writers out there who really treat writing like it’s a job. But I’m not attacking them. I’m attacking this totally fictional strawman.) They’ll throw the Nietzsche quote out there – and others like it – like it’s an excuse for not writing, or not working on the [shudder – I hate this word] craft.
Writing is a brutal process. It’s on par with Zen training. To be a writer means that you have to strip your ego down to its bare essentials – you have to understand what makes you you. No, I don’t mean that you go around saying “I am an Author;” I mean you understand yourself at a base level – in a way that a lot of people will never approach. You have to destroy the ego and uncover the self.
If Zen is sitting around, staring at a wall in the hopes that, some day, you’ll get to grasp what it all is, then writing is the same thing, but with a keyboard and a red ink pen instead of a zendo. You’ve gotta be in tune with yourself, know how you think, know what makes you tick, and you have to make that jive with the language of everyone else. That sounds weird, I know. Who doesn’t know who they are? Who doesn’t express that in their daily lives?
You probably know plenty of people who don’t. That guy who’s all smiles, firm handshakes, and white teeth – but, at some level, you can tell that something is off about him? There’s just some thing that makes you you shiver when thinking about the dude, or just interacting with him. Like a less-stabby Patrick Bateman. For whatever reason, he’s the kind of guy I’m talking about.
What I’m getting at is you have to get over the idea that writing is contingent on chaos. Because it’s not. Writing is a job like any other, and, like any other job, if you’re going to perform on a consistent basis (however you want to define that), then you’ve gotta have stability. There’s a reason Keruoac never wrote while he was on the road. Or why Stephen King (yep, him again), keeps a ridiculously strict schedule, why Dickens went on nearly cross-country walks.
They built themselves a regimen, kept to it, and produced. It’s nearly the complete opposite of chaos, isn’t it?
Let’s also not forget that – yeah, he may have written fiction, but Nietzsche was a philosopher and not an author.
Part of me wants to wrap this up with a summary – or something bordering on a moral – but I don’t think I can. I mean, I’ve still got plenty of undisciplined days. (Especially now that I’m job hunting as a full time job instead of being able to get into the office early to work! [That, of course, is an excuse. One that I really need to ditch.]) So who am I to tell you all of this? Who am I to tell you that you’re doing it wrong?
You shouldn’t really listen to me about this stuff – unless you’re desperate. (Or looking for an editor!) Part of the awesome thing about being a fiction writer is making your own rules. Many people can’t write in the morning. That’s when I get my best work done. A lot of people can write in groups. I can’t; that’s when I start talking to people about books or video games. A ton of people take part in Friday Night Writes, which breaks both of my above rules.
So, find your way, but if you’re going to listen to anything I think, you should hear me when I say you need to develop a system. Chaos is only good for Orks and poets.