A Man is Beaten by Pulp

As an unabashed disciple of Ray Bradbury and Steven Spielberg, both masters of balancing the timeless and the tasteless, I approve of this message. Partly, I approve because this is the just kind of thing I need to hear, as I am way, way too perfectionistic about my writing.

I’m reminded of something Austin Kleon wrote about his son in Keep Going. When it came to drawing, not only was his son “medium agnostic,” he also didn’t seem to care about the finished product. All of his energy was focused on the verb.

I’ve noticed this same thing about my daughter. If I hand her five sheets of blank paper, she’ll draw five spirals in five different colors and then ask for more sheets.

Back to the article on pulp fiction, the author gives three lessons we can learn from the pulpists.

Write Like You’re Freelance

Artists of all kinds are suspicious of money. (With good reason, in some cases.) Money can inject a healthy amount of work ethic into your writing, however. The list of great books that were written because someone was desperate for a paycheck is endless. The need to sell a story can make you more realistic about what to leave and what to cut, when you need to finish, and who you should be writing for.

Make Your Writing Visceral

This piece of advice goes hand-in-hand with the one above. If you need to get paid, you need to get an audience. And if you need an audience, you need to hook them and reel them without wasting any time. You do that by appealing to their guts. During an interview one time, Darren Doane gave someone the following scenario.

You’re in front of a whiteboard. A guy hands you a marker and says, “In sixty seconds, your family is going to walk through that door. You need to write something on the board that will cause them to have a physical reaction – laughing, crying, whatever. If they don’t react, I’ll shoot all of you.”

The guy who was interviewing Darren said that he’d probably write something dirty, since that would be the easiest way to get a physical reaction. Darren said, “And you’ve just explained ninety percent of movies.”

A little violent for a thought experiment, perhaps, but his point is that this is the situation every artist (writer, musician, filmmaker) finds himself in. The stakes are high, and you have a limited amount of time. Don’t ask your readers to care. Make them care. Hook their guts.

Think Disposable

This is actually a big theme of Austin Kleon’s books, which I get mixed up because I read them back to back. You might think that in order to produce good work, you need to save up for it, but in fact the opposite is true. Good work only comes once you’ve gotten rid of the bad and the mediocre stuff. Produce vast amounts. Discard a little less than you produce. Find the diamonds.

The upshot of all of this is a word of advice to myself: don’t let the pulp writers outdo you. You can write worse stuff faster than they can.

A Man is Separated and Therefore Loved

This is taken from an old tweet thread by Susannah Black on the movie version of A Wrinkle in Time in which she explains the particular menace of “It,” the brainy baddy in L’Engle’s story. Essentially, “It” wants sameness, which was terrifying enough to me as a child, but Black explains here that absolute sameness is not just a lack of creativity or personality. Absolute sameness destroys love.

How does this work? Love means laying down your life for another. That’s only possible when an other exists. Where there is no distinction, there can be no love. (It’s worthwhile to note that, where there is no distinction, there can be no pain, either.) In order for love to exist, things must have distinct natures: Creator, creature; man, woman; one individual and another. Erasing these natures – these distinctions – is an attack on love itself.

As a kid, I always thought the end of A Wrinkle in Time was weak. Meg shouts, “I love you, Charles Wallace,” a million times and somehow that rescues him and saves the universe. The connection Black makes here between love and individuality has helped me understand how fitting Meg’s actions are. “It” pushes for sameness, thereby destroying love. Meg loves, thereby reinforcing distinction. Like all good fantasy, its a story about the true nature (and natures) of things.