Random Thoughts on ‘Messy’ Writers

Because I am a sad intellectual type I found myself listening to NPR today, specifically Dave Davies sitting in for Terry Gross. And if you anything about me you know how I feel about Terry Gross. Anyway, today, Davies interviewed Paul Giamatti who I loved in Sideways as the frustrated novelist. I like that his characters are frumpy and unkempt, like Harvey Picar in American Splendor and even his portrayal of John Adams felt frayed around the edges.

On the show Davies and Giamatti discussed the idea of Giamati being described as a ‘messy’ actor. And to explain his thought he brought up Thomas Pynchon and how his novels are kind of a mess. Here’s a bit of the transcript I found at NPR.org. He went on to explain: 

  • “I like things being a little loose and baggy sometimes and not so on the nose all the time.”

He went on to say he hoped this was just not an excuse for crappy acting and for lacking discipline but it got me thinking about my style of writing and how I feel so sloppy and also messy. How I see this as a failure instead of as style. Mostly I think this because as a writer I also feel my writing is a mess. I mean I lose sections and I can’t organize them very well and I am undisciplined in my note taking and time management. I swhat I call style and what I see as style really a rhetorical flaw.

I guess I also related to this because I forget character names and have no idea of making my work appear anyway near ‘popular fiction’ I guess because of the Spanglish and looseness of plot–what I choose to write about. I tell my students sometimes like Richard Hugo in Triggering Town that there is no reader/audience. And I also say things like Sherwood Anderson–form is more important than plot. Maybe I am just upset about my lack of skill like Giamati says about sympathy for crappy acting. But I like broken down things–broken down narratives and people and also paragraphs at least plot wise. I know I repeat and I have a tendency to be redundant and I forget plot points but I like the free writing I put together right now and I feel that editing can come later. But in terms of plot development I like things unfolding in prose like a lawn chair. Things rarely happen in real life in understandable or decipherable means. Smooth transitions rarely happen in real life so why can’t they appear in prose.

Mostly what I am working on now is focused on family stories and finding those stories when you need them and imagining those stories inside of the prose. That seems more important than all of the threads tying up in the work I guess is what I am trying to say. Who cares if the prose isn’t neat or tight.

I mean I remember Keith Scribner describing Denis Johnson as writing ‘seemingly distracted and also ‘seemingly dismantled’ prose. Maybe this shows my love for Jesus’ Son and Angels which are two books I feel are loose–characters come in a and go away and we don’t have much closure in terms of plot. But they are always focused and patterned  like prose poetry rather than what I call panaramic or complete novels. No happy endings and sometimes not even satisfying endings. Like Giamati says, the work doesn’t have to be ‘on the nose’ all of the time. The aesthetic can embrace fractured narratives and fragmented story lines like the fractured and fragmented family stories I try to scrape together from family and photos and also imagine.

Not all stories need a topic sentence or satisfying conclusion giving everything to the reader and not leaving anything up to the intelligent and imaginative reader.

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john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

2 thoughts on “Random Thoughts on ‘Messy’ Writers”

  1. I agree with the idea that looseness contains stylistics that can range from the ways you perceive yourself as a loose writer to other choices writers have regarding the writing process or final result. The most difficult thing we face with our students is countering the idea that to be a “writer” means that you draft in one way, create final prose in another (that there is a right way and all other ways are wrong!).

  2. I know we’re busy doing school things now, but know that your closest editor (that’s me!) is waiting for the next installment. Oh, and I now have a new photo attached.

    <3 D.

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