A Forsley Feuilleton: I Gave Up The Roadwork Of The Fight-Game For The Drinking Of The Lit-Game â€“ Act Three[admin / March 5th, 2012 / Young Bright Things ]
You donâ€™t think writing is like fighting, that to get intellectual you have to get physical?Â You think Iâ€™m crazy for comparing writers to fighters, the lit-game to the fight-game? Â Then what do you call Haruki Murakami, the acclaimed Japanese novelist, who wakes up at four in the morning so he can write for six hours before running ten kilometers and swimming fifteen hundred meters in the afternoon? â€œWriting,â€ he told The Paris Review, â€œis like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.â€Â Even Paul Auster, an American writer without that kamikaze discipline inherent to the Japanese, agrees: â€œWriting is physical for me,â€ he said.Â â€œI always have the sense that the words are coming out of my body, not just my mind.â€
Comparing writers to fighters isnâ€™t crazy, and neither is my claim that to get intellectual you have to get physical.Â Whatâ€™s crazy is that I considered getting both physically and intellectually fit by leaving the degeneracy and unproductivity of that literatty colony in San Francisco for the morality and reproductivity of a Mormon colony in Salt Lake City.Â But I then realized trading big buds for Big Love was absurd.Â Shacking up with twelve women sounds nice, but without a steady high I canâ€™t even endure The Girlfriend, let alone a dozen women who arenâ€™t allowed to take aspirin during their periods.
Even if I could live with that many women without smoking bags and bags of bud, I wouldnâ€™t be able to write with that many women without drinking pots and pots of coffee.Â Coffee, because of its caffeine content, is outlawed in Mormon colonies.Â And writing without caffeine is impossible. . . Itâ€™s as impossible as Evander â€˜The Real Dealâ€™ Holyfield fighting as a Heavy Weight without Mr. Almightyâ€™s lighting bolt to the ass administered steroids.Â Holyfield needed steroids to contend in the fight-game, and I need caffeine to contend in the lit-game.
Itâ€™s like that flick where Larry David pretends heâ€™s Woody Allen: Whatever Works.Â To write, Truman Capote had â€œto be puffing and sipping,â€ shifting â€œfrom coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.â€Â Charles Bukowski, in Women, says he had to consume a six-pack of beer and a pint of whiskey every night to begin pecking at his typewriter.Â And we all know about Jack Kerouac, that Wu-Tangless Beat, and his need for speed when writing â€“ I mean typing â€“ On The Road.Â It goes on and on and on, both Kerouacâ€™s tweaked-out scroll and the list of drugs that great writers have indulged in.
But neither great writers nor great fighters indulge in these drugs in search of degeneracy and unproductivity.Â Holyfield needed steroids to make him stronger, and I need caffeine to make me smarter.Â The only writers that can abide by only the laws of degeneracy and unproductivity are those young happy rich people dressed like old sad poor people â€“ the poets.Â But even poets, if theyâ€™re striving for greatness, must adapt a more utilitarian view toward drugs.Â W.H. Auden, a great poet if there ever was one, understood this: â€œHe swallowed Benzedrine every morning for twenty years, from 1938 onwardâ€ â€“ writes John Lanchester in the The New Yorker.Â He regarded them â€œas a â€˜labor-saving deviceâ€™ in the â€˜mental kitchen,â€™ with the important proviso that â€˜these mechanisms are very crude, liable to injure the cook. . .â€™â€
Many a literary cook has been injured in the mental kitchen. . . but to succeed as a writer you have to take chances.Â You have to behave like a modern-day gladiator.Â You have to prepare to die on the page like a fighter is prepared to die in the ring.Â And the only way you, as a writer, can prepare to die â€“ besides taking two 100mm doses of acid like Aldous Huxley did on his deathbed â€“ is by making and reaching a daily word quota, like a boxer makes and reaches a daily running quota.Â This quota should depend on the style, form, and quality of your writing.
But if P.G. Wodehouse, as stated in his biography, could write a thousand words a day as a ninety-year-old and about three-thousand as a younger man, then your daily word quota should be similar. . . I mean how difficult can it be to produce that ponderous and problematic writing of yours?Â It canâ€™t be any harder to write than Thomas Wolfeâ€™s nonsense, and Wolfe told The Paris Review: â€œI set myself a quota â€” ten pages a day, triple-spaced, which means about eighteen hundred words.â€Â It would be different if you were a wordsmith, like Gunter Grass, putting your heart and soul into each sentence like a champion boxer in round twelve of the last fight of his career â€“ picking each punch with the selectivity of an old Chinese women buying fruit, and throwing each punch with the accuracy of a freakish Tim Lincecum en route to the 2010 World Series.
If thatâ€™s the case â€“ if you are a wordsmith â€“ then I still expect at least five pages out of you a day, which is what Grass, on average, writes.Â Donâ€™t compare yourself to Ernest Hemingway, who only had a daily word quota of five-hundred, because he had to write through the distraction of Scott Fitzgerald flashing his little pecker.Â Donâ€™t compare yourself to William Styron, who could only produce two to three hundred words a day, because he had to write through â€œdespair beyond despair.â€ And, anyway, the quality of the words conjured up by those two writers makes up for their lack of quantity.
Itâ€™s the same with me and my words.Â Because my writing is elaborately eloquent and powerfully persuasive with its sophisticated sentences, wondrous wordplay, and archaic allusions, I only have to reach a daily quota of ten words. Think back to those yearly physical examinations we used to undergo in elementary school that ended with a pull-up session: Wodehouse would have led the class in quantity, Hemingway in quality, and myself in. . . well, because I said to get intellectual you have to get physical, letâ€™s say Iâ€™m like the fat kid who can only do a single pull-up, but it’s a single hernia causing, moan inducing pull-up that I hope leaves a lasting impression on all those who witness it.