Not quite sure if the mechanics of an actual train mesh with the mechanics of the metaphorical train, at least in the prison movie sense. If one is pulling a train out of, say Attica station, then the “cars,” if you will, of necessity, line up behind you. While you might be the head of the train – the engine – the physical impetus comes from them, not you. They are the driving force, you’re just along for the ride. But with your real train, the engine is the top dog. It makes the whole thing go. Real trains pull, prison trains push.
And I’m not sure which I’m doing.
John “Jack” Hornor ne Jacobs – and the man do have a pile of names – kicked things off yesterday over on his blog with the assertion that, outside of some basic rules, writing isn’t a teachable art so much as an inherent skill that each of us masters in our own fashion. The estimable Chuck Wendig ne Wending ne Wendigo ne Stinky Beard chimed in today with something about dirt and coal dust and how he’s the douche God and, as such, does not so much channel an extrinsic metaphysical shit stream of angel-begat word sludge as he tunnels into the earth like the Wendigs of old and mines up that shit his own bad self.
And me, I’m just confused. ‘Cause looking at both entries (and both are worth your time) I didn’t find a ying and a yang or a dichotomy or a polemic or nothing like that. Maybe a NNW and a ENE on the old compass.
A compass is nice. I mean this writing thing? Each day you wonder into the primordial word thicket with pretty much nothing but a loin cloth and a machete. Some days you blaze a trail, some days you just make little Blair Witch stick thingees and hang them from the trees. And every so often you happen on God’s own scenic overlook with the scented air overblown with angel trumpets and billowy waterfalls plunging all sparkly-like into greeny bluey facetted pools and magical unicorny creatures having Avatar braid sex all about, and you realize your vocabulary is the only camera you got if you want to share this with anybody.
I can’t tell you whether it’s the bad acid you had in ’79 or if you’ve tapped into the Jungian Collective Unconscious, all I can tell you is each of us wanders alone in our own forest primeval and if we want anyone else to share that experience, then we gotta write that shit down, ‘cause there ain’t nobody else there to do it.
I read somewhere that Kurt Vonnegut used to teach writing, but then quit because he decided it felt like a kind of fraud. He said (and I’m not gonna go find the actual quote so I’m doing this from memory) “Writing well is something God allows you to do or neglects to allow you to do, and there’s not much I can do about that.” So far as that goes, I think it’s true. Talent’s involved – same kind of a talent that means you can sing or hit a curveball – and you’re born with that or you’re not. A certain instinctive felicity with language, an inbred facility for storytelling. And you can’t teach talent. You can develop it, though, but that’s on you. All the usual shit, read a lot, write a lot. The magic is in the repetition somewhere.
Not sure whether I was an engine, a caboose, or just another lump of coal under the boiler, but, in my usual Gumpian fashion, that’s all I have to say about that.