Talking About Shit

June 9, 2014 § 23 Comments

Breakfast time

Breakfast time

Nine mornings out of 10, I don’t have a clue what I’m going to write in this space. The mere fact that I’m writing about not having a clue about what I’m going to write should be plentiful evidence that, yet again, I don’t have a clue what I’m going to write in this space. The funny thing is, the vast majority of posts that have garnered the most praise were among this 90%. The central conceit was unplanned, the structure was unplanned. The sentences and how they fit together were unplanned. In other words, the whole damn thing was a surprise. It just… happened.

I’ve heard artists talk about how their best work doesn’t come from them; it comes through them and to be honest, I always thought it was a bunch of pretentious bullshit. Or – and embarrassingly, this is just occurring to me – maybe it’s exactly the opposite: A way to deflect attention from the fact that there’s actually a certain amount of talent at play.

Still, I can sense when I’m “on” and when I’m not. When I’m on, I hardly ever delete a word I’ve just written. When I’m on, I don’t have to think about what the next word or sentence is going to be. When I’m on, I suffer exactly zero self-consciousness about what I’m writing. I don’t think “is this going to get Sandra worked up?” I don’t think “is someone going to think I’m weird or immature, or judgmental, or too sensitive, or not sensitive enough?” I don’t think any of that unhelpful shit. I just write.

See? Like right there, I second-guessed using the word shit. Because I know some of my readers might not appreciate that sort of language. But the truth is, I say “shit” in real life all the time. Pretty frequently, actually, although in my defense it’s often in reference to the real thing. In farm country, shit isn’t profanity; it’s just something you deal with every day and because you deal with it every day, you talk about it every day. You don’t say “I’m spreading manure today.” You say “I’m spreading shit today.” You don’t say “I slipped in manure.” You say “I fell on my ass in a pile of shit.” No one thinks you’re swearing. They just think you’re talking about shit.

Right now, I’m not on, but I’m not totally off, either. Already, I’ve gotten over caring what anyone’s gonna think about shit. I need to do that more often, I think. Recently, someone who was reviewing a piece of my written work suggested I loosen up a bit. “Make it more like your blog,” he said. “It’s easier for your editors to dial you back than turn you up.” And on Friday night, at end of a talk I did down in MA, a kindly fellow piped up from the audience: “Since you’re obviously not going to do it, I’d like to plug your blog,” he said. “I’ve read your books and I liked them, but I think your blog is even better.”

It’s sort of hard for me to admit it, but both these guys were probably right. I think often the stuff I write here is better than my print work, and I think the reason for that is the lack of expectation. The lack of an agenda or even a plan.

Of course, that doesn’t work all the time. I can’t tell an editor I’m going to write him a story about, say, how technology is changing the culture of maple sugaring and then write something totally different because that’s what, you know, came through me, and I suspect if I did, I’d hear a whole awful lot about shit. And not the stuff that makes your garden grow.

I’m a professional writer, which means that even when I’m not “on,” I’ve got to produce. I can’t just say “sorry I missed my deadline, I wasn’t in the zone” and go have a cup of chamomile tea and a foot bath. It doesn’t work like that. Instead, I’ve gotta pound a quart of coffee and get my ass in the zone. Or close enough to the zone that no one can tell I’m not there but me. Honestly, that’s the hardest part of this job: Faking it.

Which I guess means it’s just like life.

§ 23 Responses to Talking About Shit

  • NeoNoah says:

    That is some of the best shit ever, Ben Hewitt!!!

  • Martha Caldwell-Young says:

    Hi, Ben. I read another blog this morning, talking about crop loss due to wildlife. Is this something your family also contends with?

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      We have essentially no deer pressure (I think the livestock keeps them away). We do have some woodchuck issues, though the boys take care of most of them.

      In short, it’s not really something we contend with on a regular basis. Thankfully.

  • Writing when not “on” is self-flagellation. It’s like running sideways, like flying a string. The reason so many genuinely talented artists produce poor or average novels, poems, songs, banjo solos and paintings is because these artists so often work from without, not from within. Without is planned and forced, scheduled. Within is like the wind, the heart beating, a comet.

    Take your favorite artist. Bob Dylan, Plato, Michael Jackson, George Jones, Faulkner, Frost, Hemingway, Man Ray, Brando… Why are they sometimes good beyond belief and why do they sometimes suck? How is this possible?

    How does one land in the “within” and stay there? How does one sing like a comet? That’s like asking why Jesus loves the little children, or why you were born.

    Ben. You often write like a comet. sail on

  • Eumaeus says:

    Are you sure that you are not actually confusing ‘on’ and ‘off’. For, at least in my opinion, the best shit shines through, when I am off. That is, truth is easiest to taste when the self/I/ego filter isn’t so thick. Too much thinking ruins anything.

  • Martha Caldwell-Young says:

    We all fill a variety of roles throughout each day, and each role brings out a different aspect of ourself – no aspect is wrong or less true or better, whether in the zone or not; just different.

  • I haven’t been here a lot lately because I’ve been working hard in the real world. I miss writing because it does something for me that nothing else does, so I’ve been sort of muddling through without while putting my attention on other worthy projects. Given how much I love to write and my wish that I could do it more legitimately and not just for personal relief, I admire the fact that you are a professional writer. Given the sort of thing I like to read, I admire how you write. The two go together. My point, from my very different place, is that being a professional writer gives you a facility with the tools of writing so that even when you’re off, you’re on. And while you make money from your books, perhaps your blog is where you shine brightest. From what little I know, it sounds like your blog is becoming a stronger and stronger force in your creative process, sort of like a magnetic pull. But were it not for your books nobody would know to visit your blog. I don’t know, it just seems important how it all goes together. Because for some of us it doesn’t. For my part I try to heed Martha’s advice and endeavor to keep the channel open and trust in something beyond what my mind knows.

    • Michael says:

      If it wasn’t for the blog I wouldn’t know about his books. Almost 100% of my recreational reading happens online. And even though I bought a hard copy of Saved last summer, I still haven’t read it. I have packed it on every trip where I thought I might find myself without internet access, but that just hasn’t happened. I wish Ben would put up ads so the blog would be financially rewarding to him.

  • Sandra Ragsdale says:

    In my book shit is something that happens sort of involuntarily.
    Shit becomes manure when it is purposefully used as fertilizer.

  • Whether you’re on or not on in a literary sense, whether you curse or not, whether it’s about the 90% of the time when you don’t know what to write or not, those are writer things.

    But what seems detached from that, is that what you write is meaningful.

  • amy says:

    That’s some good shit. For reals.

  • Sandra Ragsdale says:

    Writing without that breath of inspiration because you have a deadline is sort of like Rafael Nadal winning the French Open despite not playing his best.

  • I really enjoy your shit Ben.

  • V says:

    You do, however, only use the word manure when explaining your weekend plans to the guy you just started dating two months earlier. “I’m going to be hauling horse manure for the garden” sound much better than the other words you can use for it :)

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      I don’t know… two months in… might be time for a litmus test. (shitmus test?)

      • V says:

        He said that he wanted to spend time with me, and volunteered to help move the manure for my garden (and a year later, helped haul manure again!). Definitely a keeper!

  • eric Smith says:

    Your blog is more like poetry (than your books). More in the moment, alive, conversational, creative… more like art. That’s what’s awesome about it. Your voice comes through.

  • ncfarmchick says:

    Even though your books are the result of a lot of conversations, in the end, any book is kind of a monologue of sorts. Here, you seem to really speak to the readers and respond to their comments so it is much more of a conversation. I love both your books and the blog and think they compliment each other wonderfully. The blog seems to me to be a “behind-the-scenes” look at what inspires the books and gives your readers a more full appreciation of your point of view. If you wirte it, I will read it!

  • Tonya says:

    Yeah, after reading some of your published articles, I often came away thinking how boring… knowing that if you could have written freely it would probably be quite different (but one does have to earn a living) – that is the beauty of your blog.

  • Amy says:

    Ben, when I was growing up my mom required that we not use any words that were crude, naughty or even slightly sketchy. So we learned to spell many of those words backwards if we wanted to use them in our private sibling convo. So in this case I’d have to say that I agree with many other comment-makers here: I’ll read your tihs any day, whether it’s 100% inspired or not. Beautiful laying boxes, by the way. That photo reminds me that I need fresh hay in mine. Too much chicken tihs on the eggs, otherwise.

  • dbelson says:

    Nuts, I didn’t know you were down in Mass. I didn’t see anything about it on the Appearances page.

  • Kent says:

    Hi Ben – It seems that you have discovered and perfected your literary voice to an enviable degree. What appeals an inspires me is that it is an unquestionably HONEST voice.

  • Natanya says:

    I agree with Amy, and Kent and others. Your blog is refreshingly REAL and I find it delightful to spend my minutes reading through your words because it feels like talking (listening? reading?) to an old buddy. Keep on, keeping ON.

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