Disclaimers from Autodidacts

I’m posting in order to teach myself to write. I’m trying to post frequently, still doing enough edits to make this legible, while making sure this is isn’t taking over my life. I’m not all that experienced with writing prose. I freewrite every day, which creates an echo chamber of compounding habits and cycles. I usually think in stuttering fragments and write in rambling unwieldy sentences. I’m loving this process of learning to articulate and focus a thought.

This is all part of a disclaimer. To say, I’m not a writing expert, this isn’t my forte, I can take criticism but I don’t want to be judged on this. I didn’t go to real college like a real boy. It’s a cop out.

There are all sorts of ways in which I’ll do this. When I return to the States this August and get back in the restaurant, I’ll make comments on my first day or two back about how long it’s been for me whenever I make mistakes. When I pick up a guitar around other people I’ll mention offhand how rusty I am and long it’s been since I’ve picked one up. Even when I give someone a copy of my play these days, I’ll want to tell them that it’s not perfect and I’ve got things I need to fix, parts I’m rewriting. Just imagine it’s better than it actually is, when forming your opinion. 

I am insecure that I didn’t go to school. Acting conservatory gave me buckets of acting training, but I’ve never really received critiques on my writing on a regular basis. High school was forever ago, but even then I wasted most of my opportunities to grow as a writer, in or out of class. I’m happy, and delighted about who I am and where I am. But I certainly have deep regrets about a lot of time that could have been better spent in line with my goals. And even in the field I’m claiming as my own, I’ve got real gaps in my knowledge.

Noted insecure man Woody Allen feels similarly in some regards. Like most Paris Review interviews, the whole interview is a great read.

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I’m not sure I have the background and understanding to write a novel. The book that I have been working on, or planning, is amusing but serious, and I’ll see what happens. I’m so uneducated really—so autodidactic. That’s a tricky thing, because there are certain areas the autodidact knows about but there are also great gaps that are really shocking. It comes from not having a structured education. People will send me film scripts or essays or even a page of jokes and they’ll say, Is this anything—is this a short story? Is this a comedy sketch? They’ll have no idea if it is or isn’t. To a degree, I feel the same way about the world of prose. When I brought something into The New Yorker, I didn’t know what I was standing there with. Their reaction could have been, Oh, this is nothing. You’ve written a lot of words, but this isn’t really anything, or, Young man, this thing is really wonderful. I was happy to accept their judgment of it. If they had said, when I first took those pieces into The New Yorker, We’re sorry, but this isn’t really anything, I would have accepted that. I would have said, Oh really? OK. I would have thrown the stuff away and never batted an eyelash. The one or two things they’ve turned down over the years, they were always so tentative and polite about; they always said, Look, we may publish something else a little too close to this, or something tactful like that. And I always felt, hey—just tear it up, I don’t care. In that sense, I never found writing delicate or sacred. I think that’s what would happen if I finished the novel. If the people I brought it to said, We don’t think this is anything, it would never occur to me to say, You fools. I just don’t know enough. I’m not speaking with the authority of someone like James Joyce who’d read everything and knew more than his critics did. There’s only one or two areas where I feel that kind of security, where I feel my judgment is as good and maybe even better than most people’s judgment. Comedy is one. I feel confident when I’m dealing with things that are funny, whatever the medium. And I know a lot about New Orleans jazz music even though I’m a poor musician. Poor but dedicated.

I’ve got a few areas of my expertise. Here’s a couple:

  • If you’ve got an idea you’re building, especially for something story-based, I can help construct it.
  • If I’m not playing a professional, I can give anyone some good competition in poker, and to a lesser extent, chess.
  • I’d also like to wash restaurant dishes in a competitive setting, I think I can hang with anyone there.

I’ve got a much bigger list of things which are off-limits to me, interests of mine which I won’t stand behind. I’m getting better these days at not allowing this to limit my choices in terms of my projects I’ll attempt to tackle. It’s main function, these insecurities, are to allow me to behave tentatively in social or exposed settings, like writing a blog. I’ll write weaker statements, or shy away from saying things that might be shot down by the experts, and of course, pepper my paragraphs with disclaimers.

A part of me would love to be a James Joyce, who as Allen says, knew more than all of his critics. Or even like Thomas “by God, I have genius–I know it too well to blush behind it” Wolfe. Whether or not he’d read everything, he definitely wasn’t a meek little turtle. I do have huge plans and a strong self-opinion, when I’m working by myself in a dark closet away from social niceties. The important thing is to, (as me, not anyone else,) do what I need to do anyway to get these projects to line up with my vision for them.

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