11 July 2011
Post 402: Thoughts Without Cigarettes
Hijuelos gets down on himself an awful lot in this memoir. In fact, this whole memoir is almost a tribute to his lack of self-esteem, first as a Cuban (because he doesn't look Cuban and loses his ability to speak Spanish), then as a teenager (because he is a teenager), and finally as a writer. Strangely I think the whole, "I'm not good enough" pathos works really well for most writers, to the point where it becomes so ingrained in their psyches they may not even realize they have it anymore.
Why this tends to happen is a mystery to me given the sheer amount of ego it requires to be able to pursue the publication of a novel, poetry, or other forms of fictional work. Yet when it comes time to write, at least for me, it's almost sheer Id. When I write, my higher sense of self is very seldom engaged. In fact, I tend to get downright silly when I've been writing. My fiance/editor began discussing this a bit the other day. Part of the reason I get so goofy when I write is that my brain disconnects a bit from the ego and goes into "creative problem solving" mode. Rather than looking at writing as a means of telling a story, my brain sees it as more of a loose ended puzzle in which I have to find the most satisfying answer. Since my brain is a strange place to live, it often comes up with solutions to the problem for its own sick and sadistic pleasure. This is a bit like giving a 10 year old boy endless ammunition for a cap gun and the keys to the Monster Studio after he's eaten a pound of sugar. However, for as many weird and completely unusable scenarios as this 10 year old comes up with, occasionally he really hits on something that is so good it's scary.
Of course, I feed my 10 year old a steady diet of literature, non-fiction, pop culture, and real life experiences, and there's also the adult who comes in and beats his butt when he gets out of line. My Editor is definitely a parental figure, and a punishing one, and I think that also tends to be fairly common for more serious writers... or at least the professional ones. At this point I am in Conjecture Land, so feel free to tell me if any of this is not the case for You As a Writer.
I think perhaps writers (in order to be good), have to be extremely harsh on themselves when it comes to the editing process. I know I've taken out complete passages, rewritten endings and beginnings and middles, removed commas, and totally changed everything, just to get closer to the meaning of the story. I am probably exceptionally harsh on my writing, which is probably why I have very little desire to actually do it. My super-ego Editor is such a harsh bastard, that the Id often kicks him in the knees and takes his pop gun and pixie stix home until the cranky jerk goes to sleep at 8pm. The very process of getting my Editor to shut the hell up is so tiring that by the time I'm ready to let my Id-kid out, the Ego is telling me it's time to go to bed already. The Ego isn't much help in writing either, always telling me, "Gee, if you start writing about Victorian era London, you're going to have to do a lot of research about transportation and clothing and history!" Even my Ego is a god damned librarian.
I'm curious about other writers, regardless of whether you consider yourself a professional. How well do your Ego, Id, and Super Egos play with each other? Do they prevent you from writing more often than not? I'm not necessarily a Freudian, but in this case the terms do apply to the way my brain works in this instance. If you have better/other terms you prefer to use, that's fine, but for the sake of conversation please make them easy to identify.
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