Writing, With Guys Named Dave

Dave...... to Infinity!!

Another 37, Day 4

This is harder than it looks.

I remember that, about doing regular blog posts. Aside from the fact that a 500-1000 word post takes about 90 time as long to write as it does to read, it’s surprisingly difficult to find something to say. Normally I’m not comfortable with just rambling out whatever is on my mind. I realize a lot of my blog posts amount to that anyway, but I at least try to make them about something. I don’t just sit down at a keyboard and write whatever comes to mind. That feels pointless, as if somehow blogging about my  deliberately uninformed theories for how they manage to squeeze all that air into a compressed air canister is so much better.

But this is harder than it looks. Why is that? I spend most of my time thinking about or, on those occasions that I can get someone to listen, talking about the kinds of pointless-but-interesting things that so characterize existence for the modern overeducated and under-utilized denizen of the developed world. Which is a term I hate, by the way, because it implies that we are somehow finished, while the developing world hasn’t gotten to our state of completion yet.

Maybe it comes from a desire to actually be a good writer. I’m not saying that everyone who blogs doesn’t have that desire. I’m just saying a lot of people who blog aren’t focused on craft, and wouldn’t cringe at, say, that last sentence I wrote, or consider taking it out. I did cringe, and I am considering its removal, but then the two sentences after it wouldn’t make as much sense, and I’m fonder of them. Except for that use of the word “fonder.”

There’s a big difference between actual stream of consciousness and a structured article that has the appears of stream of consciousness. They look similar, but one is rambling, and the other is, or at least can be, art. This, right here, this is actual stream of consciousness. It’s something that I usually avoid because I think it’s less compelling and it doesn’t take as much effort as a writer. Like anything else, if you want to improve as a writer your practice has to be not just extensive but deliberate. Just writing words down isn’t going to make you much better.

It can be pretty hard to identify the difference between the two. Some writers telegraph it more than others. Some Dave Barry articles are written to sound like he’s just saying funny things as they come to mind. But the embedded structure and writing techniques are obvious if you even kind of know what to look for. On the other hand, if David Sedaris’s technique is something other than pounding on a keyboard on the way to the kitchen to indulge in some late-night chicken wings, I sure as hell can’t tell. Which is not necessarily a condemnation of Sedaris work. But writing like that, funny or engaging or otherwise, looks a lot like a Jackson Pollock.

I’m sure a lot of that is jealousy on my part. I don’t have the skillset or the patience to write something like Game of Thrones, but I could write about getting nervous about going to the dentist with my boyfriend. Although I suspect my wife would have a few questions.

But that’s the point. Just because I think I could write like David Sedaris doesn’t mean that I could match his success even if I had all of the same opportunities. I couldn’t necessarily hit those exact notes of humor and relatability. I might publish a million words and never strike the same chord in my readers that allows him to make a living over dissing the way his father treated him when he was a kid. I definitely couldn’t do it if I continue to rely on clichés like “strike a chord.” Jesus Christ, what was I thinking?

Writing always looks easy because we all know how to do it. Most of us couldn’t even start to build a microprocessor or translate that as-yet untranslated Aristophanes play about cheese balls. But we can put sentences together. It’s part of why so many people think they could be great actors or football stars. It’s doesn’t look out of reach because the basic elements are accessible. Because every dreamer can perform the easy version of those tasks, and so it makes sense that with a little elbow grease they could perform the hard version. I don’t know if there’s as much of a gap between “See Dick Run” and Infinite Jest as there is between legos and a microprocessor, but I know that you won’t have a serious idea of how many rockets you’re going to have to attach to your skateboard to leap over that ramp until you actually sit down and start jesting.

Because, after all, this is harder than it looks. Which is why, sometimes, for my own sanity, I just have to sit down and blog.


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