It’s a meandering guide to creative writing, reading out loud in front of people, the pros and cons of being a writer, and, finally, the story of a television that secretes a jelly-like substance — all rolled up into one essay/article… enjoy!!
To write is to play god upon the model train set of your imagination, like a 12-year-old satisfying his curiosity of what happens when a speeding locomotive crashes through a crowd of people. To write is to scour through the file cabinets of your mind, thumbing through every one of your past defeats, conquests, perversions, failures, loves, and heartbreaks, trying to find that one ideal memory you can excavate for a story. A writer isn’t just a person who sits at a desk and types words onto paper—a writer is an inventor trying to build a machine that connects the unsettling world outside with the secret world inside.
These thoughts run through my head as I sit at my desk trying to write a story about a futuristic TV that secretes a thick jelly from its screen because of its extremely high-definition graphics. The only reason I’m attempting to write a story about a television that has to be wiped hourly like an infant’s ass is because it sounds simply disgusting, and because it illustrates how for someone might go to possess the latest technological gadget. Would people really spend good money on a television that oozes a greenish-gray slime from its screen just to have crystal-clear resolution and perfect aspect ratio? Would someone actually get down on their hands and knees and clean up this mucus-like substance from the floor every time they wanted to watch Antiques Roadshow or Dancing with the Stars? In my world, yeah, most definitely. And that’s the beauty of writing. Your characters will do whatever you want them to, even if they try and fight it. They can only hold out for so long. You are the parent that should know better, and they are the children that have to listen to you, and learn from you, and emulate you.
To me, any creative pursuit deserves to be celebrated as one of life’s badges of honor. But writing is that one artistic calling that trumps all others. I realize I’m being biased because I am a writer, but let me break it down for you. Photography, illustration and painting capture one single moment and grind it through the filter of the artist’s eye until you, the viewer, see it just as the artist sees it in his mind. Filmmakers invent entire cinematic worlds onscreen, but these larger-than-life stories are built from the writer’s script like directions to an Ikea bookshelf. Therefore, a movie is not created; it is constructed. And musicians have it pretty rough, but they always seem to have an uncanny knack for loving the spotlight, and their dark, dirty, lyrical secrets are usually safely camouflaged behind melodies and fellow bandmates on stage with them.
Performance art might be the closest parallel to the writer, because both pursuits require baring your deepest, darkest inner self for your audience. Both demand that you reach inside your soul, grab a handful of your secrets, and expose them to complete strangers hoping they’ll pluck them from your palm and ingest them like candy. You must be willing to slit your artistic wrist day in and day out to tell the tale you choose to tell. Although very similar, the big difference between performance art and writing is that the latter can be accomplished from behind the veil of a keyboard, safely protected from the outside world. But the performance artist has to do their thing in front of god and everyone.
This leads me to the crux of this article. I never felt the weight of my own words until I was forced to read them aloud to a crowd at a café years back. It was the first time my stories and I had left my writing desk to perform in public. It was the scariest moment of my life, standing up there in front of a microphone on a small stage, with 20 people I didn’t know listening to me recite a story about the first time I fell in love. I remember sweat pouring down my reddening face, and my hands shaking so much that I couldn’t even read my own words on the pages I was holding. I recall stuttering and saying, “Umm,” every six or seven words. It was supposed to be a humorous story, but no one was laughing. I remember coming close to vomiting as I finished reading the first page aloud. But then a strange thing happened at the second page: I heard people giggling at a sentence that wasn’t intended to be humorous. It was a part of my nonfiction story that described how heartbroken I was when the object of my affection laughed in my face when I offered to buy her dinner. The more I read from that painful paragraph, the more the audience chuckled at my candor and despair—not in a cruel way, but more of a “I know exactly what you mean” kind of way. I couldn’t understand it; all of my funniest lines had fallen on deaf ears, yet the story’s sad ending incited four separate bouts of laughter from the crowd. I walked off the stage drenched in sweat, vowing never, ever to do that again.
But my ten minutes on the stage has forever shaped how I write today, over a decade later. From that haunting experience, I discovered that the best way to write a strong story is to imagine reading it out loud to a room full of people you don’t know. It helps you stay focused on what’s important: the tale itself, not your dynamic vocabulary and ego.
Your readers will eventually know more about your own story than you do, because their minds will give life to your words through the filter of their own life experiences. The story will become theirs too, because they’ll construct your world in their own mind through the directions you provide. Every crack in your narrative will be filled in by your readers’ own imaginations, so you better be damn sure you provide them with enough descriptive tools and grammatical lumber to construct it correctly. Read it out loud to yourself, and really listen to the sentences, the flow, and the dialogue. Especially if you’re writing about a television that discharges a putrid substance onto the living room floor while you’re trying to watch your favorite programs.
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Brandon Christopher is an author, copywriter, artist, private investigator and career connoisseur. His latest novel, The Job Pirate, which details his absurd journey through 81 different jobs, will be released this year through Bleeding Heart Publications. His other novels include Dirty Little Altar Boy and Nightville. He lives in Seattle, WA, but prefers to pretend it is Paris in the 1920s.