Speak, memory! I'm in the studio this month to record my entire backlist — seven audiobooks, with a Christmas deadline. It's an honor to complete my literary history in audio— 30+ titles in all.
It's also been a tough ride through the Wayback Machine— to sit at the mike and perform, out-loud, every story I've penned since I was 22 years old. Humbling? Uncomfortable? I did... fucking WHAT? Yeah, all that. Sometimes I'm touched by my dewy talent and daring adventures— other times I wince.
I can see from my early work that I always had sweet moments; I knew how to tell a story and make an argument. I could throw the ball. But like a kid with "athletic ability," I needed someone to exploit and train me.
In my subsequent career, I got plenty of exploitation, but not enough cub training! I wish a mentor who'd taken me aside, like a literary Pablo Sandoval, and told me that if I didn't eat more carrots, they were going to stick me in Fresno.
Like a Minor League pitcher, I couldn't always sustain my control through an entire show. I needed more editing than I got— although by editing others, I absorbed the lessons I taught my pupils. Maybe that was the best way.
It's odd to consider that I was paid so much, commercially, when I was a young writer— and now that I'm a consummate pro, the bottom has fallen out of publishing's paper cup. I'm nearly 53 now, just wrote my first memoir, (out in March!), and I've never hustled harder.
Still, any deprivations I face today do not lessen my satisfaction of having control over my ball.
The ball is your story, and your story is an argument that must be pitched and resolved over the plate.
The closer a pitcher gets his body and arm to the target, the easier it is to control the ball.
Writing well takes unfailing honesty. You might be a lying bastard in your off-hours, but when you pick up the pen, face your enemy. Find the heart, the meat of your story— and you will connect with your reader.
I work as an editor. I coach writing students; I give my daughter unsolicited advice on her college essays. My advice to all concerned is to perform one's work out loud before you publish.
I do mean loud— no whispering, no rushing. You will hear every one of your faults, and if you've been a dedicated reader all your life, you'll have a clue how to remedy your errors.
Warm up. Once you're good and loose, begin to move around your pitches.
First drafts are your friend— they are DESIGNED to lead to second drafts, and thirds. There is no such thing as a cold first draft that couldn't be beaten. You need a second set of eyes, you need to feel the words in your mouth, you need to shake it off and do it again. One end of the writing process doesn't exist without the other.
If pitchers want to improve their velocity, they must improve their momentum.
The missing ingredient in boring stories and weak arguments is lack of action. Even rhetoricians build their arc with dramatic movement.
Stop telling me about the weather, your clothes, your inner emotions. —Pull a trigger, step on the gas, come on my face. I'll find out everything I need to know about the rain and the hem of your skirt.
Be glad you were born with the natural ability to throw a ball.
This is a bit of parental advice— what's "natural" about ability is the exposure to great talkers and storytellers since infancy.
Start reading to your own kid before they can talk. In utero! Tell them stories, sing them songs, show them picture books and poetry, over and over again, like mantras.
Fairy tales, ghost stories, your family history, songs your grandparents sang— it's all Shakespeare to the young mind. When I meet students who say they want to be great writers and don't know where to begin, I tell them to read rhyme and sing their guts out for a year. You'll learn all you need to know about drama and timing.
Gaining consistency is going to be a challenge.
There's only one shortcut: eliminate every adverb in your second draft. One day you'll wake up and realize you've kicked the habit.
It's a simple editors' tool, yet baby writers fight it every step of the way. Fine, keep sucking your thumb— you will never grow up.
Play a quick, focused game of catch— where your partner never has to chase one of your throws.
The reader should never be aware they're "reading"— you want them in a trance. Afterward, they can watch the replay and marvel at your skills.
Every time you pick up a ball, you should have a purpose.
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together.
Be a wild wo/man, with immaculate precision. Bite detectives in the neck ... get dragged off the roof waving your genitals and manuscripts.
When you know what you want to say, there's nothing else like it.
Photo Credit: Joel Levine, 1974. This is me reading one of my "very important papers" at 16. Thank god there's no recording of this.
Have I ever written a book-length work about writing? Yes. It's ostensibly about erotica, but it's really about everything. Go Giants!