Wednesday, April 16, 2008


My friend Carol Peters posted on her blog the poet Jorie Graham's answer to a question asking what advice she had for aspiring poets. In it, she quoted John Berryman who warned of writers succumbing to the "thinky death." In context, I think he was warning poets not to write poems with an interpretation in mind, for that could lead to stiffness, preachiness, bad poetry in general.

For the novel writer, the "thinky death" could fall along similar lines. Activists, philosophers, and religious zealots--take note. Literary agent Pat Walsh sees it all the time. In his excellent book 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Publish & 14 Reasons Why It Just Might, he laments how many writers whose books don't make a point; rather their point makes an entire book. Camus, Kafka, and Sartre did it (and well), but I don't see those novels lighting up the bestseller lists in the twenty-first century. They might not have even been published in today's market.

A similar tangent to the "thinky death" is the writer who stares out the window all day (me), talks incessantly about his novel (me, but to myself), and is addicted to writer groups and conferences and revising the same novel that's been under construction since the heady days of university (not me, thank God). These are the thinkers, which produces that horrible symptom of talking, which means that no writing is getting done.

Here's the vaccine to the "thinky death." Ready? It's called BIC--BUTT IN CHAIR. You gotta do it. Can't fake it any longer. Pray, play Scrabble, drivel on in a blog, but then get the words down. Set yourself a goal. Here's mine. "I'm not getting out of this damn chair until I've written this scene." Notice I did not apply an evaluative label. It could be awful, skeletal, without any verve whatsoever, but you know what? I've got something to work with.

So, think about that (but only for a minute) and post BIC on your desk lamp. I'm rooting for you.

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