I just read one of those books that cause me to completely change the way I want to write. This happens about once a year, as I have a bad habit of trying to imitate other writer’s styles in lieu of using my own voice. Last year after reading The Sound and the Fury I started going Faulkner on my sentences inserting a bunch of italicized streams of consciousness into everything I wrote ᾿cause I’m an idiot and every sentence had to wind on forever turning the way it wanted to full of color like the Mississippi river running through Yoknapatawpha County reflecting the fading copper light of the final days of August and giving no fucks about punctuation.
This year it’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, and now I find myself wanting to shoot off more Spanglish ridden LOTR references than that gringo Legolas has arrows in his quiver.
Though I may be late to the Oscar party, and now everyone is talking about his new collection of stories This is How You Lose Her, there’s still something to be said about Diaz’s hilarious, natural way of writing. I get the sense that homeboy just does not give a fuck when he writes. (Though he does, it took him 11 years to write The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading highfalutin’ stuff like Faulkner for the past year, but it’s so refreshing to read a writer who writes for the reader, not other writers. While some writers might try to impress other writers with a salvo of novel biblical allusions, as is the convention for (almost) all western literature, Diaz just says “Fuck all that,” and fills his book with his holy trinity—or trilogy: LOTR.
You may be thinking, “How can it take 11 years to write a book with a ‘Give no fucks’ mentality?” Simple. He was doing something new. It wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking or revolutionary. It was just new. Sometimes discovering something new takes time and patience and ultimately, courage. It’s the safe move for a writer to directly follow the maps made by the writers who came before, but writing isn’t about being safe. It’s about venturing off into the wilderness to be chewed up by large predatory jungle cats, and trying to come out on the other side intact as a person, and sometimes it may take awhile to get there.
So what’s the lesson to extrapolate from Diaz’s witty, powerful writing? It can’t be spend lots and lots of time on your writing (that’s probably a huge part of it, but I’m way too lazy for that). It’s to do something new. To make yourself lost as a writer, because, as he said in an interview a few years ago, “What’s the point of being in mapped territory?” Also, drop some Spanglish in there, pendejo. It works for Diaz.