One-Sentence Stories

Good Editing Almost As Good As Being More Talented

Despite a manly thrashing from Ernest Hemingway, meted out with pugilistic zeal, the mime refused to speak.

Garrison Keillor inhaled deeply during a monologue; passed out, and awoke hours later in a pool of his own gravitas.

Charles Bukowski stared at the woozy red label and understood at last that Blatz Beer was both a product name and a promise.

It had become impossible for Gertrude Stein to pretend she didn’t enjoy rebuilding automatic transmissions.

Despite assembling a stable of star performers, William Burroughs eventually abandoned his dreams of building a world-class cockroach racetrack.

In an Entertainment Tonight exclusive interview, Satan reveals the key to Oprah Winfrey’s success and adds that her soul was so small; within days of making the deal, he misplaced it.

Laughter ensued when the actual Rolling Stones were accidentally enshrined in Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and no one knew the difference.

In the course of attacking and robbing Brad Pitt, hardened New York City gang members observed that, even with a gun to his head, the tabloid staple was unable to act scared.

Tristan Tzara, Marcel Duchamp, and René Magritte either did or did not walk into a bar holding a box marked “Schrödinger’s Cat”.

Robin Williams discovered he was unable to stop talking about Tourette’s Syndrome.

“Help yourself,” urged Wayne Dyer, Zig Zigler and Tony Robbins; then they did.

Universally admired and ridiculously rich, Eric Clapton realized he no longer had the blues and abandoned his musical career to operate a barbeque shack in Lubbock.

As George W. Bush awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found that he had not been transformed in his bed, he was still a gigantic insect.

After weeks of trying, Charlie Sheen realized that it is practically impossible to perform brain surgery on yourself, even with a really good mirror.

In the midst of an ether-induced hallucination, Hunter Thompson lapsed into sincerity and was inconsolable for weeks.

There Is No Need To Reinvent The Lemur

Do Not Attempt To Dazzle And Stun Your Audience No Need To Reinvent The Lemur

I have been a promotion writer for 30+ years. Essentially, promotion writing involves making true statements in a way that encourages readers to arrive at false conclusions. For example, when I say that our vinyl siding virtually never needs painting I’m actually saying our siding needs painting.

“Ultimately it’s not what you don’t say that matters most so much as how you don’t say it.” Taz Mopula

This profession has never posed a moral struggle because, to me, the marketplace rule is caveat emptor and companies have the right to hire professional persuaders adept at putting products and services in the most positive light possible.

“Learn to speak the truth; it is helpful to be fluent in a foreign language.” Taz Mopula

However, when it came to recovery, and writing my books, I went to the opposite extreme. Rigorous, even brutal, honesty was my modus operandi; I understood that there was no alternative. When writing about serious matters like mental illness, evil, and addiction I quickly realized there was no room for preaching or persuasion, only the truth was important, only the story mattered.

“Writing is the easiest part of being a writer; the most difficult part is becoming a writer.” Taz Mopula

Years spent in therapy and recovery netted a treasure trove of knowledge, not just about the hideous monsters that delighted in tormenting me, but also the tools and techniques of the healing process itself. Enthusiastic and happy about these positive developments I sought to share what I learned with my near and dear, and was met with various sorts of rejection. After a while, I stopped. One can only be hit in the face with a bull fiddle for so long.

“The audience is never wrong; that said, one does occasionally wander into the wrong theater.” Taz Mopula

I came to understand that people are, for the most part, invested in keeping you in your pigeonhole. If they have come to think of you as a self-destructive loser, continuing to do so makes them feel good about themselves. When you present as self-disciplined, confident, productive and – most egregious of all – happy – your new persona is upsetting and troubling. No amount of explanation will help them understand, or care, what you’ve been through. Only results matter.

“Do not attempt to dazzle and stun your audience with dense, complex constructions; there’s no need to reinvent the lemur.” Taz Mopula

Even before setting down the first word of INVISIBLE DRIVING I vowed to tell my tale with the mercilessness of a research scientist, embarrassment meant nothing to me. I applied the same formula to MOONLIT TOURS and WASHED UP, even though they are novels. When it comes to my personal writing, the poetry, essays and, (in an odd way, even the cartoons), I have no desire to persuade anyone of anything.

“In poetry one finds language distilled until it comes as close to perfection as it will ever get. The absolute simplicity of universal truth, all extraneous vanities stripped away, mixes freely with the impenetrable obscurity of individual experience to create something at once deeply familiar and tantalizingly out of reach, yielding to endless interpretation.” Taz Mopula

Let’s Eliminate Wretched Writing

Learn To Speak The Truth Foreign Language

I’ve been a professional writer for 30 years and in that time I’ve learned a few things. So, with the help of with my old friend Taz, I’m going to toss out some pointers guaranteed to make you a better writer.

“Technology has democratized the tools of creativity, resulting in a tsunami even more cretinous and loathsome than anticipated.” Taz Mopula

Today, everyone can instantly transmit shabby, incomprehensible phrases around the world. We are awash in a tidal wave of staggeringly poor writing. The good news for you is that it is easier than ever to stand out – good spelling alone puts you in the top 5%.

“Writing is the easiest part of being a writer; the most difficult part is becoming a writer.” Taz Mopula

Arranging words is the very last step of the writing process. Great writing begins with great thinking; your writing will improve immeasurably if your thinking and motives are clear.

“On the Internet, all statements are true; including this one.” Taz Mopula

The Internet is like a broad boulevard where idiocy, divinity, and evil stroll hand in hand. The poor reader must learn to separate cheese from Cheez Whiz. Your writing will either exploit and exacerbate this problem or help repair it.

“Learn to speak the truth; it is helpful to be fluent in a foreign language.” Taz Mopula

Truth is the hallmark of great writing. Most people purposely avoid telling the truth. Most of those who try, fail, since they habitually deceive themselves. While there is no such thing as absolute truth, understanding and sharing your personal truth catapults you into the top 1% of all writers.

“We write to discover who we are, and in the process, become somebody else.” Taz Mopula

Writing well requires a reckless disregard for comfort and safety. Be Columbus, sail off the edge of a flat ocean and you and your readers will be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams. Personal evolution is an almost inescapable byproduct of great writing.

“Ultimately it’s not what you don’t say that matters most so much as how you don’t say it.” Taz Mopula

Here is an exercise for you – listen to the music of Thelonious Monk for a day. Listen to the spaces in-between the notes. The confident writer says more by saying less, but when you do say something, make it count.

“Even the greatest paintings are flat; they only become three-dimensional in the eyes of those who behold them.” Taz Mopula

As a rule, writers are arrogant, narcissistic, impatient, self-indulgent and drunk. You’ll find over time that these qualities work against you and must be mastered. The finish line is the realization that you are a craftsman and a servant – without your audience you are merely a mime performing at a school for the blind.

I Know Why The Alligator Hides

Writer Reads Rejection Slip

I began writing INVISIBLE DRIVING in 1990 and ultimately self-published it in 2007 – that was 4 literary agents and 100s of rejection slips ago. I learned that there is something harder than surviving Manic Depression, harder even than writing a book about it – that is publishing a book about it. The torrent of abuse and rejection was epic – at times – even comical. (My step-grandmother founded and owned W.W. Norton – a very prestigious publishing house – even they wouldn’t publish it!)

The process was at once humbling and character-building. I knew what I had was good, I knew it surpassed the competition, I knew these unimaginative, lazy publishers were the ones missing out. I came to truly “get” that life is not a meritocracy, and that acceptance does not flow naturally from quality and hard work. I grew accustomed to the feeling that jazz musicians must experience when they see Kenny G in a Ferrari; a mélange of rage, envy, frustration, mystification and absolute certainty that there is no God.

I Know Why The Alligator Hides

After a long hiatus, I began writing poetry again during this period and was being published in one of the country’s most celebrated – and bizarre – online literary journals – EXQUISITE CORPSE. One day a friend said, “Your stuff is really getting good, you should send it to The New Yorker.” Against my better judgment I finally did send them one of the best. Weeks later I got the obligatory rejection slip. Without a moment’s hesitation I turned it over and wrote, “Dear Sirs: I was saddened to learn of your recent loss. Sincerely, Alistair McHarg” and mailed it back to them.

Childish? Perhaps. Passive/aggressive? Most definitely. But let me tell all of you out there – I know why the alligator hides and I know why he needs his hide. If you are mentally ill, you are going to take some abuse, even if you are trying your best to get better. If you are an alcoholic in recovery, don’t expect a parade. And if you are a committed artist, you can hope for the best – that’s good, even necessary – but plan for the worst and expect it. Remember that the rain falls equally on the just and unjust and the biggest mistake you can make is looking up at heaven and shaking your fist. The answer to the question “Why me?” is always “Why not?”

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