At first, and then

The apartment was attached to the art museum, downtown. When I went back years later I thought I was on the wrong side of the street because the art museum looked different and the apartment was gone. The day I moved in a guy stopped me on the street and asked, “are you an artist?” It sounded like a bad come-on. I wound up freelancing for him, writing articles in a monthly called Entertainment! The first time I got published I was so proud I had to show this guy who was visiting from New York. He was an actor and I thought that meant his opinion mattered more, a real artist. Part of my job at the theater was picking up out-of-town actors at the bus station and taking them to their hotels, making them feel pampered. Running out for small things or giving them advice on where to go. It seemed like a strange part of my job but I liked the idea of having actors in my car and getting to know them a bit. The first actor had a white mustache and beard and sat alone in the restaurant where I waited tables. I showed him the article and asked what he thought of it. He took a few beats to finish chewing and then put the paper down and said, do you really want to know? That was the first time I realized that just because you put something in print doesn’t make it any better than it was from the start. I was writing the way I imagined the voice should sound and that was not an interesting sound. Same for all the corporate memos I’d write in the years to follow. People want to hear a real voice, your voice. Readers can sniff out fakes like sniffer dogs at the airport. Sounding authentic (and still worth listening to) is the first challenge. And just because you learned it once doesn’t mean it will stay with you.

Categories: Memoir, prose, writing

Tags: , , , , , ,

12 replies

  1. The art of sounding authentic – that is one big slippery can of worms, isn’t it. And what works for fiction is not the same as for nonfiction. And then what happens in the former when you have a character who wants to speak for themselves but you don’t know their exact idiom. Do you condemn them to silence, disinvent them?
    It’s also a paradox (probably) – that to be authentic, you have to get the ‘you’ of you out of the way. All of which is to say: it’s hard this writing lark – when you start thinking about it too much 🙂

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  2. Oh, so true! There was a segment of my life devoted to technical writing destined for auto-translation – where the exact opposite of “authentic and worth listening to” were at the bottom of the criteria. Everything was stated in as few words as possible, never varying any phrase (that slows auto translation). I got quite adept at this, a whole new way (for me) of writing. During this period my daughter in junior high began asking me to spell-check her poems (we didn’t yet have a computer to do that) – a jolt to my auto-translate brain, and a blessing – my daughter gets credit for my emerging poet.

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    • That’s lovely! Learning to write better through your daughter…or learning to write differently, I should say. It’s all learning isn’t it? I like the technical challenge of writing with precision even if it feels like it lacks emotion or depth, it still has a unique challenge and quality to it, and value. That’s a cool story Jazz, thanks for sharing…and for reading. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The first half of this makes me think of guys like Hemingway and Louis L’Amour who had all kinds of odd jobs in their bio. Fisherman. Bare-knuckle boxer. Ambulance driver. Actor-picker-upper. The second part reminds me of all the writing I’ve done that sounds fake to me, like I’m pretending to be something I’m not. I guess we have to go through that though. Growing pains, and such. I like these small blocks of text. Very weighty. Good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey thanks. Really…I’m plodding through, appreciate you “hanging in.” One more big one for tomorrow if you have the stomach for it. I have a hard time rereading the stuff but like you say, we have to go through it. Really appreciate the note…as always. Hugs! Bro kind!


  4. For a novice, trying to put thoughts into words, I find useful lessons in your writings and even in their comments. Read with interest. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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