We all know Miss LiteraryMinded likes to read. Sometimes I come across writers in journals, anthologies and online that I know I’ll continue to watch. Every now and then I’ll throw them a few open-ended questions about their writing and themselves, in order to introduce them to you.
There are so many layers to the process of writing, plus all the myths and prescriptions people allow themselves to be infected with. Process is absolutely individual, full stop, and even then it’s your most capricious friend.
For me writing should feel like those few seconds after you’ve tripped, but before you’ve found your balance again – a kind of controlled chaos. I like to let a fog come down and sprint into it rather than pre-plot and scheme. Besides, the joy of writing is that I don’t know what’s going to happen in the story either, and not only will I get to find out, but I’ll discover something about myself in the process.
Most important of all is daring to reveal personal truth and emotion in my work. By all means transmute it, rather than throwing up on the reader. But humans have the most uncanny nose for truth. Which means if I’m moved, and my writing can do justice to the sentiment, it’ll move others too. It just will. The art then is to write from your centre, not just from the intellect. Any fool can be clever, but truth is where the power is.
On published works…
I’ve been writing just five years now but during sporadic fits of determination I’ve had my work broadcast on national radio; performed at Melbourne’s Arts Centre; featured in The Daily Telegraph UK; Sleepers Almanac (Aus/NZ); and repeated success in The Bridport Prize – which calls itself the largest open writing competition in the world.
Now I’m focusing on finalising my debut novel – Rocks In The Belly, with interest from two major publishers here and overseas. Once this novel’s ready I’ll start knocking on the big doors again, as well as returning to a previous manuscript – The Prophet Of Loss.
I’ve found a great deal to love about the writing circuit in Australia, especially the strong wave of proactive writers and poets starting their own journals and zines if they don’t find the establishment open-minded.
It’s almost scary deciding what to do with our precious reading moments, such is the kinked ratio between our available time, and the wealth of options. A problem that’s led most people to this kind of ‘franchise mentality’ where both reader and publisher become increasingly reluctant to stray from the formulaic or the familiar.
Independent journals like Torpedo (falconvsmonkey.com) are crucial because they champion meritocracy, a quality that shows in the vitality of the writing.
Story is everywhere. There’s no moment without its ability to be harnessed. Probably because there isn’t one truth of a moment, but many. All you need to do is set those truths against one another and you have the main ingredient of narrative.
What amazes me though is the fact people bother to care. What makes us need to find out what happens in something invented?
But I suppose those of us who sit alone and invent fiction are craziest.
I haven’t found a complete writer yet but I’ve loved the gentle melancholy of Graham Greene; the deftness with which Martin Amis and Michael Chabon draw character; the dialogue of Salinger (he took the trouble to italicise parts of words); the way Iain M Banks builds new worlds…
But it was Raymond Carver who brought about a tectonic shift in my work, even though I had raging arguments with him in my head. He does what he does well, and reading him gave me the courage to make my own writing sparser – for it to stop trying quite so hard. But he also really wound me up.
It’s all very well to be able to produce atmosphere, conflict, something ominous at hand, but if you can’t land it all successfully… That’s Carver. A strong story is one that feels like a complete slice of time. Not necessarily a clear resolution or transformation, but it should leave the reader with a sense of having borne witness to some moment of completeness.
Carver’s stories are sketches of immense promise, and compelling too, right up until they end. At which point, I’m usually left feeling collapsed. It’s all very well getting a story airborne, but the challenge is to land it all again within such a short flight path.
I don’t think Carver could do true justice to plot or real narrative. And I think he knew that.
Zen In The Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury is a wonderfully simple treatise on writing and fits absolutely with how I like to approach it. Writing needn’t feel arduous. Quite the opposite.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a millionaire because I thought it was a profession and the pay might be the best. And for a long time after university I was on a similar path, working in major marketing agencies for major clients.
Then my Mum died and my ambition died with her. Years passed and I eventually found writing, nurturing it from a hobby to a passion, then my vocation.
Soon it became that familiar monster though, sucking up all my energies, awakening ambition, until I was absolutely intent on nothing short of Bookers and Pulitzers.
Thankfully I’ve calmed down. Now I consider ambition to be nothing more than a necessary bastard. Without it I won’t achieve, but I also know how unfulfilling it would be to live my life intent on just one vein. One vanity.
I’ve seen that particular writer at a literary event. You know the one, sweating in the shadows, holding a portfolio of his work – that night being the night he has to make it. It’s such a dangerous and lonely feeling to need one thing absolutely. Especially considering how unlikely it is to fully happen, or sate all that expectation when it does.
To really commit to writing you have to play ambition tricks on yourself – finding the balance between simultaneously striving for and giving up greatness. Not to halve your investment in order to halve disappointment, but to know that everything is hollow if you don’t love it for its own sake.
Five years from now…
In five years I hope I’m still finding enough sustenance to continue writing for its own sake (BOOKERBOOKERBOOKERBOOKER!).
But if I was arrogant enough to bet on the future, I’d wager that in five years I’ll be five years closer to being at the very top of my profession. And, knowing me, I’ll also be five years closer to breaking it all and starting again on something else.
Something not many people know about Jon Bauer…
Whilst at university I earned extra money as a topless dancer. Just thinking about it makes me cringe. If I could revisit my early years, I think I might visit those on-stage moments last.
And congrats are due to Jon, who has just been granted Australian residency as a distinguished talent!