A Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man.

I turned 40 this week (pipe down, I’m not fishing for B-day wishes, just pointing it out). In the grand tradition of turning the Big Four…Oh, it seemed like time to take stock, and to assemble a sort of personal inventory of the things I think I know about myself by this advanced age. The things I know about myself as a writer and reader, I mean. Who the heck wants to go down that dark path of a full-blown personal inventory, with the scratching trees and the slippery mud and what not?

So here it is. And if it seems on a few of them that I am getting a bit curmudgeonly, and you find that you are personally offended, I am truly sorry about that. What follows is entirely my own collection of foibles and failings, so I’m really not trying to criticize anybody. No wait, I’m 40 now. I ain’t sorry. You need to toughen the hell up, punk. And get off my lawn.

Consarnit whippersnappers. Grumble.

Stuff about Ed, writer and reader.

1.)   If I am going to have a good, full day of writing, I have to start first thing in the morning, before I start thinking about anything else. Otherwise I may accomplish a little bit here or there, but it’s hit-and-miss.

2.)   The more I write, the less I read. It feels like using the same muscle, and if I’ve been writing all day it is fatigued.

3.)   Some scenes, particularly anything emotional, I have to write first by hand. I don’t feel close enough to the work on a computer screen for that stuff.

4.)   I used to finish every book I started reading, manically. Even if I hated it. I got over that.

5.)   Being a “plotter” just doesn’t work for me. My writing goes where it goes, and if I try to plan it out ahead of time, I feel constrained.

6.)   If you don’t know where the title of this column came from, you and I have very different tastes in reading.

7.)   I think if a reader feels a real connection to a character, all else is forgiven.

8.)   Most times when I look at a contemporary top ten list for books, movies, or TV shows, two or three things on it look remotely interesting to me. The rest looks like interchangeable time-killers.

9.)   While I love the Ani DiFranco line “Art is why I get up in the morning / But my definition ends there,” what actually gets me out of bed in the morning is coffee.

10.)  9 times out of 10, the word “vampire” is generally enough to make me stop reading a blurb.

11.)   I can’t write with music on if there are lyrics.

12.)  Watching writers gleefully bash classic literature makes me pretty sure their own books would bore me to tears.

13.)  When the writing is going good, I forget to eat.

14.)  I read most writing advice about simplifying things, which is about 90% of writing advice, as “Make the story easier for stupid people to follow.”

15.)  I’d totally sell out for the right amount of money.

16.)  When I see an author whinging about how they want to quit, I’m secretly tempted to tell them why crossroads have an evil reputation. In olden times, suicides who could not be buried in a churchyard were buried at crossroads, so that those who had the strength to go on could walk over them.

17.)  I think the only way for a writer to become better is to write more. Maybe a lot more.

18.)  For the last fifteen years or so, I’ve read more history than fiction. It’s not even close.

19.)  I miss heroes who were actually, you know…heroic.

20.)  I’m pretty much an elitist snob about a lot of things. A *lot* of things.

21.)  I can spend an hour rewriting a single paragraph. It’s about 50/50 whether it turns out better or worse than when I started.

22.)  One of my favorite parts of reading is formulating a picture of the characters in my head, based on what the author tells me about them. Consequently, I find covers with actual people on them to be an immediate turn-off.

23.)  I make a distinction between “drafting” and “writing.” Drafting is that initial rush of getting words down on paper. Writing comes after that, and it is hard work. It is also where most Indies fall down, when they do.

24.)  Genre distinctions are for bookshelves. But they are so ingrained, readers don’t know it. Consequently, writers don’t know it either.

25.)  I think a great novel is a better writing guide than any writing guide ever written.

26.)  The whole notion of “fan fiction” makes me vaguely angry. Like it’s stealing.

27.)  I think writing is different than any other “art” form in that more than movies or music or painting or sculpting, the work is created in the reader’s mind just as much as it is in the writer’s. Writing can do things no other art form can. Thus the impetus to simplify everything, make it more cinematic, get to the action right away is a needless surrender of the things writing can do best, in exchange for things other forms can do better.

28.)  I don’t think a “good read” and a “good book” are necessarily the same thing. But they can be, and only when they are both do they rise to the level of great.

29.)  I’d much rather read a book where an author was trying for something deeper than a “good read,” even if they miss it, than some slick piece of pabulum I can’t remember half an hour later. Even if I enjoyed the pabulum and it went down smooth and sweet, so what? I’m going to be hungry again later.

30.)  Only the fact that people can agree with some of the above, and disagree with other stuff makes us interesting as a species. If we all liked exactly the same things in exactly the same way, we would only ever need one book. As it is, we need an infinite number of books. And I am totally good with that.

*     *     *     *     *

M. Edward McNally is the author of the Norothian Cycle books: The Sable City, Death of a Kingdom, The Wind from Miilark and Devil Town, plus multiple free short story volumes titled Eddie’s Shorts. He has been writing for twenty of the last thirty years and does not recommend the ten year spell of writer’s block in the middle. Ed is a contributor at Indies Unlimited (IU Bio Page) and tilts at his own windmills over at http://sablecity.wordpress.com/

Author: M. Edward McNally

Epic fantasy author M. Edward McNally is a North Carolinian of Irish/Mexican extraction. He has a Masters in English Lit from ISU and Russian/East European History from ASU. He grew up mostly in the Midwest along I-35 northbound (KS, IA, MN), and now resides in the scrub brush surrounding Phoenix AZ, where the scorpions and javelinas play. Learn more about Ed at his blog, and his Amazon author page.

24 thoughts on “A Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man.”

  1. Sorry but… Happy Birthday!

    You're very funny when you're being half way serious but point 27 made me stop and re-read. The 'ah hah' moment happened soon after. I've never thought of the other media vs writing in that way before but now that you've put it into words it seems so obvious. Agree 100%.

    Great post Ed. Thanks. Oh and welcome to the Grumpies. 😀

  2. Great List, M. Edward. I agree with a lot of it, especially what writing can do that the other arts cannot. And I rarely bother to see a film of a book I have loved–because I want to keep my own pictures of the people and action. Also, I have the same reaction to trying to read after a day of writing. Nuf words! I walk and do chores.

    1. My Mom is exactly the same way. Loves the Harry Potter books but refuses to see any of the movies as she doesn't want to spoil her own image of the characters. 🙂

  3. Great post – All great grumblings! Disagree with 27. Writing is an art form producing the best visuals possible when written for the imagination with just enough left to the imagination.

    40 is a perfect age!

  4. You call this a list? Wait 'til you hit 50, you whippersnapper.


    I pretty much agree with you, altho I'm a plotter (or at least I start that way).

    Happy birthday, Ed!

  5. Loved it Ed!! Fantastic (and oh so bloody true). My favorite part:

    14.) I read most writing advice about simplifying things, which is about 90% of writing advice, as “Make the story easier for stupid people to follow.”

    Oh ya, I laughed so hard on that one then cried because of how true it is. 🙂

  6. I keep forgetting I'm supposed to be old. Probably fretted more about it then than now, which bodes well.

    Funny, before I read the comments, # 27 struck me hardest too. I'm still examining it from every angle.

    Excellent post.

  7. I agree with almost all of the above. I don't want to admit to agreeing with all of them because I don't want to be accused of being a curmudgeon — like you, for instance. 😉

    Seriously, though, great list. Loved it. Welcome to the Forties — it's not so bad…not yet, at least.

  8. I did try to plot, but found that if I tried to make the characters act out the plot or even a scene, they just look silly and stiff. If I let them do it, they often surprise me. In a good way.

  9. The big 4-0. Ah, not that bad, really. I'm 42 and now hitting my stride for writing and farming. They say we only get better with age. I just wanna grow old gracefully.

    Love your points- although I can't do coffee. My morning starts out feeding all the animals on the farm. Only after that do I get to check email, FB, write a little, and finally get breakfast before the rest of the farm chores need to get done.

    Enjoy being 40, you only get to do it once.

Comments are closed.