Writing for Ghosts

It is 4 a.m. and once again I am planted before the keyboard attempting to craft words into clever sentences…and there you go, failure in the first keystrokes. The good news, based upon my dearth of hits on WordPress, is that no one will read this anyway.

I once envisioned myself a budding writer, but now I am thoroughly convinced that feeling was nothing more than insomnia in the early morning hours combined with a pot of cheap coffee flushing out last night’s indigestion (don’t worry, that’s as graphic as I am capable of writing!)

I know I could be a good writer, if it wasn’t for all that grammar and words and things. But who am I kidding? It’s all about the words…the fucking words! (Hey, I used “dearth” in my second sentence…doesn’t that count for anything?) Well, I don’t have words or ideas or pesky plots, but what I do have is way too much time on my hands, so here you go.

When I write, I don’t have a particular audience in mind. Well, sort of, I guess…I have the ghosts of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Hemingway, and Plath. Sweet Sylvia Plath. Lots of dead people who, while not necessarily helpful critics, at least show up in my head and watch the circus of confusion unfold. Sometimes I can hear the occasional clicking of the tongue, a sure sign to lay on the backspace and come at a line from a new direction. Or maybe the clicking is the melting cubes in Ernest’s posthumous cocktail. The revolver of his pistol being locked into place? Who knows? The point is, I’m often guided by the whispers of spirits.

It feels as though when I write it has less to do with me having something to say than something that has to be said having me to write it. (Wow, I just plagiarized myself..that last line was something I wrote a year ago!) But it’s true, nonetheless. I often find that it is sufficient for me to just press the keys, and somehow the story will tell itself. Don’t believe me? I just wrote everything above without a thought in my head.

The key to being a great writer, I’m convinced, is to be a great reader. There is nothing I can say now, or will ever write, that hasn’t been said or written before. But a studious reader understands that there are a million ways to say the same thing, and that’s the beauty, and salvation, of writing. You don’t have to be original. You just have to have a unique dialect. In my case, it also helps to have a really poor opinion of most of today’s writing. I continually lie to myself and say, “I can do better!” And sometimes…I do. Then I pull down a worn copy of Pushkin and think, “shit..fuck this!! I can’t write!” And again, I am right.

So I continue my early morning ritual and if it’s true what they say, that if you give 1,000 monkeys 1,000 typewriters, in a thousand years, one of them will bang out the complete works of William Shakespeare, then surely, if this continues for a thousand mornings, I can bang out something worth reading.

115 thoughts on “Writing for Ghosts

  1. brightaylor

    I know exactly how you feel! The content of this post is a summary of what I’ve been thinking about all week; earlier this week I read that the most important thing any writer should do is focus on the story. I’m having the hardest time trying to put that into practice…

    Reply
    1. dlmchale Post author

      Just write. Don’t worry about the story. If you sit silently for an hour, a week, a month, and the day it comes, it will be a masterpiece. Thank you for your comments.

      Reply
  2. elappleby

    This is beautiful! You’ve captured perfectly how we all feel at some point (or several points) in our ‘careers’ as wannabe writers. Personally, I have a simple approach: I ask myself ‘Am I enjoying this?’ If the answer is ‘yes’ then I carry on, and if it’s ‘no’ then I go off and do the housework. So far, it’s never a no which is why my house is in such a state.
    Don’t stop writing. Please.

    Reply
  3. hcfbutton

    “The good news, based upon my dearth of hits on WordPress, is that no one will read this anyway.” Not true now that you’re freshly pressed. Continue to listen to the muse, even if it is a ghost.

    Reply
  4. damayantichatterjee

    You know, I have a kinda similar way to approaching my writing – and I’ve read that monkey-typewriter thing in a book actually! Proves your point in a way, but the post was still entertaining :)

    Reply
  5. bethamania

    I feel like sometimes as an aspiring writer I feel everything you expressed here. Sometimes the best time to write is when there’s nothing left and you can’t think anymore. Just start typing anything, even the newspaper, and before you know it, something will come from your own head and start you in a new direction :)

    Most of all, just keep posting thoughts like this! It helps release the anxiety and refresh the creativity.

    Reply
    1. emmavincent166

      Excellent advice. I recently had a bout of ill health, but decided I would do at least 5 mins each day even though I felt so poorly I was sure it wouldnt be any good. 3 weeks later I had 70 pages of work…not all useable but some is, and now I’m feeling better I can get to work to shaping it up.

      Reply
      1. emmavincent166

        Thank you :-) I’m working on it over the next week or so and would be glad to share it with you when I’ve shaped it up a bit. Love your blog (as clearly do many others)

  6. notesfromrumbleycottage

    The key to becoming a great writer is writing. You still have to do the work, put the words on the page, make the mistakes and fix them. Other writers can demonstrate the pathways, you can find new ones as you struggle. In the end, you still have to do the work and write.

    Congrats on being freshly pressed. Keep writing!

    Reply
      1. dlmchale Post author

        I love Tim Burton, and as far as being Freshly Pressed, it’s an honor, but it only comes with continual writing. Keep up the good work.

  7. inkandpages

    Beautifully expressed and universal thoughts. I know that as a writer myself, my biggest block comes when I think about all those “ghosts” (there are so many!). How on earth can we ever hope to write anything worthwhile when they have already written it? The answer is, of course, in your post: “there are a million ways to say the same thing, and that’s the beauty, and salvation, of writing.” We must never compare ourselves to other writers. The Chinese have a saying paraphrased: Follow your own path no matter what others may say.

    Reply
  8. Nerd With Taste

    I hope you never ever stop writing. It is one of the only things that do not have any boundaries. Unless you count grammar, but in the whole scheme of things… who really pays attention to that? It’s the thoughts that count. ~ nerdwithtaste.wordpress.com

    Reply
  9. connoragriffin

    This is by far the most entertaining yet legitimate piece of writing I’ve come across in weeks. I feel like I relate on almost everything you said; especially on the ghosts of great writer’s pasts (god that sounds like an awful “Christmas Carol” spin-off) and writing because something worth being said wants you to. I actually wrote a post about that titled “Inspiration is a fleeting visitor.”

    Anywhos, congrats on the Fresh Press man, you definitely deserved it! I’ll definitely be coming back for more! *No pressure or anything*

    Reply
  10. Victoria McCarroll

    See, I’ve got to disagree that everything’s been said before. We live in a world that’s changing all the time. Groups of people whose voices have been silenced for years are now being heard. There’s so much we’ve never thought about, so much that has yet to be said. I think a writer should be ambitious and say yes, I have something new to say, because I come from a unique perspective. The great thing about being a writer is being able to read what has come before and to contribute something to the dialogue.

    Reply
    1. dlmchale Post author

      That’s an interesting perspective. I wasn’t denigrating the original voice of new writers…just observing that we can’t escape the common threads that run through human experience, and while it appears something is new, one only needs to read deeply to see the similitude of experience across all ages. Nothing is new even though everything is new. Give me an original sentence, and i can cross reference it with a historical author in no time. Still, it is contributing to the dialogue, sure.

      Reply
  11. joshiroritsu

    A very fun read indeed….
    If you have spare time please check out my blog. thanks.. I’m currently writing chapter 1 of my story and it be alter date till I can post it, but I would appreciate it if you visit my humble site and spare a couple of minutes reading my poems.

    Reply
  12. TNW

    Good stuff. I enjoyed the humor of it. This subject has a certain gravity that people don’t understand unless they want nothing more than to be a writer. Writing about something very serious with such an air of flippancy. Great stuff.

    Reply
  13. earwaxdissertation

    Well at the very least someone somewhere is doing something productive. While u were banging the keyboard and adjusting ur mindset late at night, I was just snoring. Give urself credit for any attempt at artistry. Most people would never challange themselves beyond walking to the fridge at nite and raiding the left over cheesecake.
    I love the feeling when one is writing and the magic happens, when everything aligns itself just right. It rarely happens for me, but I understand your frustrations.
    nice post

    Reply
  14. The Savvy Senorita

    There are a million and one great writers out there that will never get published, their work will never see the light of day (very sad I think). It is merely the right place at the right time, like everything else in life. Fate if you will. If we write from the heart then what more can e do? I feel too many people want to fit a niche or a mould, but pandering to what we think is expected only stunts creativity. Stay true to your self (corny, but I believe that is true), and appreciation will be received in one form or another. If it isn’t then it does hurt, but the right people aren’t always fortunate enough to be where they belong, and who knows why. That is life, and it can be unfair. I continue to try though, and always think of Stephen King; he was going to destroy his manuscript ‘The Shining’ until his wife convinced him otherwise. Not everyone can be a Stephen King, but it doesn’t mean to say our words are any less valuable, because we haven’t the validation of a publisher.

    Reply
  15. Mojca Penca

    You seem to be on the right track, but in case the inspiration doesn’t come willingly, just ask yourself – what would Sylvia do? (Also, you might want to avoid ovens).
    All the best;)

    Reply
  16. williamw60640

    Congrats – you’re FP!
    Keep on keeping on. Fight the good fight (you said writers don’t have to be original).
    As another struggling, aspiring writer, thanks for sharing. Believe me, I can relate.
    Cheers.

    Reply
  17. livinginfairyland

    Plenty of hits now, then! I think to do anything worthwhile you have to have a good ‘why’. If you don’t feel like writing, you don’t write well, you don’t enjoy it – you’re not a writer. If you like writing and you innately feel you have something to say, write and don’t worry about the hits or the audience – heaps of great writers were ignored during their lifetime. And I agree, you have to read..good luck!

    Reply
  18. Pingback: Interesting read… « daroomiesroom

  19. andres

    One piece of advice of being a good writer is to understand human behavior; afterall, humans are the ones who read our work. If they (humans) can’t relate to what you wrote, then there is no reason to continue writing.

    Reply
      1. Andres

        I, too, struggle with grammar convention, which seems like a life-long
        love-hate relationship between trying to impress the grammarian readers, while working hard not to supress the creative juices from spilling on the blank pages of my draft. In spite of the basic writing rules we were taught and somehow expected to follow as writers, we still need to loosen our tight rein on spontaneity, by allowing all the pieces of our written words–whether moraled, principled, or not so– fall where they may.

        I think it is very important for writers to realize the continuous dynamics between grammar convention and creativity, if they are to hit home with their readers who come from different walks of life. I always refer back to my background of studying human behavior (my under-graduate was also in psychology) because it gives me the basic elements of understanding why people, and similarly–animals, do what they do. Once my readers understand and accept these basic tenets of the mind as I explained them in the context of my writing, then I can proceed with the rest of my story.

  20. 12ec

    I am a novice at writing but really your writing have opened an outlet that is in the always saying the same thing as what you have wrote on the 3rd, 4th and 5th paragraphs. Thanks alot.

    Reply
  21. runningonsober

    Brilliant piece Dennis, I was captivated.

    I agree about the writing quickly without thought. A “write fast, edit slow,” sort of thing.

    As a reader and lover-of-words, gotta say, this is one of my favorite posts I’ve run across on WP. Congrats! I’ll be following. ~ Christy

    Reply
  22. sporadicblogger

    Another ghost just dropped by and she liked that someone writes for her ilk.
    Congratulations on being freshly pressed and keep writing! :)

    Reply
  23. cartoonmick

    Becoming a world famous creative genius is an ambition I share with you, along with mental blocks which refuse to let the creative genie out of the bottle.

    I’m a freelance cartoonist with hurdles which run parallel to yours. Regardless of any problems, these are small when compared to working for an unreasonable and non-creative boss.

    So lets cheer the 4 walls we look at, as we let those creative juices flow and surge us on in a tidal wave of world fame with that first (next) great overnight success.

    Ahhh, I can hear the money truck pulling up outside my house now………………………………

    http://cartoonmick.wordpress.com/humorous-illustration/#jp-carousel-185

    Cheers

    Mick

    Reply
  24. Kami Tilby

    Your writing resonates with intelligence, honesty and a strong desire to communicate. I hope you don’t feel discouraged about your writing ability too often. Please keep writing. I’ve found, much like you, that my best writing happens when I just let my hands and fingers make a direct connection to my brain without much thinking. The truth that wants to be told flows through. I know that sounds mystical and strange but it’s similar to how your described your best writing. Sure there’s editing involved later, but the guts, the meat, the real stuff is just there waiting for our fingers to give it life. Don’t give up. Keep writing. Know that your voice is valuable and needs to be heard and read.

    Reply
  25. njhasan

    Don’t give up! Writing can be like pulling teeth or fighting against a giant, relentless, wave of self-doubt. I find that a lot of encouragement and a little direction can go a long way in the writing process. So here’s some encouragement: You already have a really great voice and the fact that I finished this post proves that you can write well. So keep going. You can only get better from here.

    Reply
  26. Ray G.

    Can someone say i….ron…ee? You went from ‘dearth of hits’ to ‘glomming on.’ Come on, we’re all adults here, we know how this game works. Us ‘un-chosen ones’ peruse the “Freshly Pressed” page everyday and machine-gun comment on the posts (usually effusive praise for articles we do not read) hoping to boost our stats. “Hey, I commented on every damn one of those ‘fresh’ posts. That’s gotta get me at least a few extra hits.” Time passes. We check our stats and…”Damn. Nothing. Just the same shit. Google searches pointing to that Hubble picture I posted. Ain’t no one readin’ my crap. I should just give up. Find a bridge to jump off of. Looks like the machine doesn’t ‘approve’ of me.” With all that said I actually dig this post. Feel every drop of the angst here. I often feel that what we’re doing on this world-wide thing is masturbating behind tinted windows. Now off to posting tenuous comments on the blogs of the ‘chosen.’ ;-)

    Reply
      1. Nirmal Vs

        :D it was seriously one hell of a piece. :) I’ve been trying to seriously debate with myself whether i should try writing something or just drop the idea and delete the account n disappear into the emptiness of facebook ;) Uv just given me fresh hope. TX !!

  27. robinbeverly

    Well, at least you have a few people reading you. Anyway, it’s more important to write for the sake of writing and for yourself than for your present audience. One doesn’t really know the kind of effect you are going to have over the long term anyway. What if Ann Frank or Emily Dickenson had stopped writing just because of a lack of an audience? What if any of the great artists had stopped doing what they had to do…because no one cared? I know how you feel…and so do all of your writing friends. It is what it is. I have a picture of Oscar Wilde that motivates me…or the picture of Jesus that is in my heart always. Keep on keeping on!

    Reply
  28. blackshepherd

    Once I had a popsicle. It melted. I knew it would. I didn’t bother to try to eat it. I just sat there and watched it melt as I knew it would. It was so delicious looking. It begged to be licked but I just sat there waiting for it to melt as I knew it would. And it did. It melted just like I knew it would. Into a puddle of sugar and watery food colorings… it melted just like I knew it would. Eventually most of it evaporated…into the sky I suppose….who knows? But it left a stain. I knew it would do that but I don’t look at the spot where that popsicle melted anymore. It’s enough to know that it melted just like I knew it would.

    There, has anyone said that before? In different words you say? I doubt it!

    Reply
  29. Pingback: Boy, do we ever! « tales from the desk

  30. Lloyd Lofthouse

    To find an audience for our work we have to start out writing for ghosts. If we also promote our work, eventually these ghosts may materialize into flesh and blood.

    You said, “The good news, based upon my dearth of hits on WordPress, is that no one will read this anyway.”

    If you hike into a forest with ten million trees, how many will you see and how many will catch your attention enough to stop you so you will stand and admire it? As writers, we are one tree in a forest of millions and many of those trees are already dead.

    On the other hand, readers are also a forest but they are all alive. After some research, I discovered that in the United States there are about 60 million avid readers reading an average of ten books a year, but 80% of Americans, after high school, never visit a brick and mortar bookstore again. I wrote a post about this on one of my Blogs. I’d leave the link to that post where all the depressing facts are exposed, but someone might accuse me of pimping for my site.

    Each year, several hundreds thousand new titles are published in addition to all those millions of titles that were published in previous years. All those books are competing for the attention of readers. If a reader doesn’t know a writer’s book is out there, how can he or she know it exists and might interest them?

    One avid reader reads an average of ten books a year and has several hundred thousand new titles to choose from. How many of those books does that reader discover?

    I checked your Blog’s Alexa rank, and it does not look as if you have registered your Blog with search engines or Alexa yet because there was no rank. You may want to do that to show up on search engines.

    I have several Blogs and about half of the daily traffic to the most popular of those Blogs usually comes through search engines.

    Besides competing for the attention of readers, to get noticed on the Internet, writers are also competing against several hundred million Websites and Blogs. If some reader out there does a Google search on a subject we write about and our site does not land on the first page of that topic search, the odds are that we will continue to write for ghosts. For example, when I do a search for a topic I’m writing a post for, I may only look at the first ten pages of a search that came up with 20 million hits. If I do not find what I’m looking for by page ten of the search, I revise the words pr phrase used in the search and start over.

    Reply
    1. dlmchale Post author

      I am filled with gratitude for your observations. It’s quite a window into the reality I face as a writer. Thank you. And I would appreciate a link to your blog (and the information on linking to Alexa) Again, thank you for taking the time to walk me out of the forest.

      Reply
  31. elizabethweaver

    You nailed it…that simultaneous despair and need and elation of creative expression, in this case
    writing. Contemporary writers who may also raze one’s self-esteem include Michael Ondaatje, Toni Morrison, Jeannette Winterson and Phillip Pullman’s THE DARK MATERIALS trilogy, so they’re not all dead.

    Keep writing, good luck & thanks for the post.

    Reply
  32. Jay-ar

    I thought I was alone all this time….:-) I also write for everybody, I mean, no particular audience, no particular story….that’s the way of my writings. I just write, I don’t mind for the critics…..:-)

    Reply
  33. Snakehair

    My writer ghost would be Charles Bukowski… I dream of being best friends with him and having poetry contests. You and Sylvia Plath are welcome to join. I love people with some edge to them

    Reply
  34. Kollin

    Very well done. I have to say I love your style of writing, you flow well and at least project the illusion of a clever man, but then again that’s all that counts. ;)

    Reply

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