Welcome to week thirty-three of the #WritersQuick5 series - where we learn about writing from fellow writers.
This week brings us fellow Channillo.com writer (and so much more writer) Brian Dykeman. Brian’s series Carcerated Grammar is one of my favorites on Channillo. It is a series of letters he’s crafted about/with another Brian Dykeman he met while on a cross country road trip. He combines art and writing from a point of view that only Brian could produce. I love what Brian has to say about his own writing and writing style, so I’m going to turn the rest of the intro over to him…
When asked… what kind of writing do you do?
“The easy answer would be to I dabble in fiction, concept work and Auto-Biographical stories. My scripts typically have a comedic drama bend to them with an aim at dialog and terms or phrases I haven’t heard before. I just discovered the word ‘piles’ means hemorrhoids. Now everyone I tell that to says: “You didn’t know that?” Here I am, thirty-three and feeling like I’m from a different dimension because even when you type ‘piles’ into a search engine; Oh, by the way use DuckDuckGo, people, Google isn’t god, but they’d like to track you like one would and also… It’s DuckDuckGo, how silly is that? You have to use it. I’m not a shareholder, just saying. But now I’m going to look into it. Ahh, it’s a private company. Well, good on them. I have even more respect now. Anyway, ‘Piles…’ even when you type it in in a search, that’s what comes up. Hemorrhoids. Turns out it goes back to middle ages. Pila meaning ball.
Back to topic, I’d say you could compare my writing to all sorts of different genres and styles. Though I know that doesn’t exactly answer the question. Let’s just say I appreciate minimalism, but am used to working up convoluted messes. I also don’t shy away from using a thesaurus, not to always sound smart, but mostly to find what sounds the best and appeals to the aesthetic without losing the meaning. Oh, I like tangents too. If you hadn’t noticed.
I haven’t really been ‘officially’ published, so to speak. Might never be considering I don’t think I would work well with what someone else wants for ‘my’ projects and people don’t like aimless tangents. But there is stuff up on the internet; a subscription sites and a blog that’s probably lost to the aether. And I imagine I’ll go the self-publishing route at least once in my life. But I also just haven’t reached a point where I need to cross that bridge.”
You guys are hooked already, right? So am I.
Let’s see what else Brian has to say…
Question #1 - Where do you write and why do you write there?
It used to be I would lay down and work in the notes app on a 3rd gen iPod. But, so much of my series is done on paper and on the computer that that is where I ‘have’ to be. So as of recently I work wherever I can set up a computer; usually in the home office or at the kitchen counter. Laying on my bed and writing on my iPod is where I prefer to be though. Most of the magical, creative writing happens there. It’s having to go through emailing it to myself and hence having to put everything into a word document later that I run into the hassle that comes with that particular means of writing. I realize it’s a seemingly insane method but you can’t fight where you find the fool’s gold once you’ve figured out how you best bring it up from the river. Pyrite is priceless, people.
Question #2 - What is unique about writing for your particular genre?
Knee jerk answer, I’d say nothing. Whenever I open a book I run into something I’m doing that another author has already pioneered, and they typically executed the maneuver much better. But I’m not too hard on myself when I find such examples; number of authors out there, number of books, obviously there is going to be some retread. I suppose as long as the destination and mileage varies there isn’t too much of a problem. Actually, one of the reasons I stay away from reading very much is that very reason. Parallel thinking sets me back on my heels when I discover it has occurred, keeps me from fully exploring an idea the way I had been. Which is good too though, it just sets the writing back though.
I suppose my overall approach to the work might be one of the most unique things about my writing. Almost everything I do comes about as a result of asking questions, coming up with answers, then asking more; something I can probably attribute to my Philosophy degree. I’d say I have an overwhelming desire to try and make things as different as possible. Throwing in twists bends or slants people wouldn’t otherwise expect or necessarily come away from in an appreciative light. But thanks to my six years in the Marine Corps I’m already well ahead of the curve in that regard since we think about the world in terms that are dramatically different than the average citizen or even other military -non-Marine- members would; Marine’s inherently firing on a weird ignition timings. Honestly though, I gravitate towards anything that keeps me interested and engaged. I mean, I’m passively working on putting together a coloring book of all things. But, I’m very hard to entertain or impress, so I try to put out or invest myself in material that I see some sort of personal or social value in. Basically, I try to focus my life and art around Pirsig’s question ‘What is Quality?’ You know, the question that drove him insane and underlines the entirety of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ then on into his next book ‘Lila,’ life on a sail boat and the answers he arrived at. Basically, why do something if it doesn’t have quality? To paraphrase Pirsig: we all know when something has quality, but we can’t definitively say why it has quality. So, I try to gravitate toward things I feel are at least noble efforts towards achieving that benchmark; the dynamic versus the static if we are to apply Pirsig’s Metaphysic of Quality found in ‘Lila.’ I also often think of life in terms of my not living to see tomorrow and time passing by, ideas found in the Bushido, but largely instilled in me from potentially life threatening situations encountered while in the military. So for me, there is a concern about whether whatever I’m working on deserves the next day, week, month or years I have left to live, time being our most valuable commodity.
Does my work meet those expectations? Almost never. But I strive for it and am always thinking about it. And unfortunately for other writers -for better or worse- it’s something I hold them to also. I realize a lot of times this is their job and what they do to make a living and feed their kids. But I don’t have a lot of those concerns so I suppose I’m more concerned with the art than the cash. It’s a nice problem to have, I imagine they’d say, even though, for me, such concerns probably consume the same amount of time and focus they probably give to said kids and other concerns.
The thing with my work is, from the outset, I don’t really believe folks are going to think what I am doing has any quality. I feel like I can almost guarantee that. But I endeavor to have at least something being answered; whether it’s a question outright asked or not, and to provide something entertaining in the interim.
Question #3 - What are some of your grammar or punctuation pet peeves?
Probably the people that voice their concerns with it.
I suppose seeing incorrect it’s/its; you’re/your; to/too; there/they’re/their usages. But those things have more of a spelling error feel to me than grammar and they slip past me all the time even though I’m well aware of the correct forms.
I’m a horrible person to ask that question. I literally have specific punctuation styles for different projects where I use it in specific ways or in ways it’s not necessarily meant to be used. And I am a person that agrees with Cormac McCarthy in his minimalist feelings towards punctuation, they are just silly marks on a page afterall. But I do like to use it in artistic ways, ultimately relying upon the reader enduring enough of it, for long enough, to start getting used to what I am doing. But I also do that for certain reasons I’ve deemed help better frame what I am trying to accomplish or look more aesthetically pleasing to me or for the project. My usage of semi-colons and commas and the various hyphens is also highly suspect.
As for Grammar, first of all, I’ve never taking a Grammar 101 class that focuses strictly on grammar. If such a thing even exists. So, grammar in our society is a failing of the education system in my mind. If you are thinking English class, I’ll contend there hasn’t been a single English class I’ve taken where that was anything more than a passing concern. It was only addressed sporadically, but then hammered down upon as if you committed any sins against it. I think it’s a sad state of affairs because as far as I’ve experienced it is something you have to study on your own. And that is a time suck and a half without a teacher.
That being said, I’d say consistency is of the utmost importance. You can be dead wrong in how you write something, as far as the rules are concerned, but as long as you keep doing it, well at that point it’s part of your style. I suppose the struggle would be keeping readers who hate what you’re doing invested and being okay with looking like an idiot. You might disagree, but you need look no further than the current application of writing, for better or worse it evolves/devolves depending on popular usage.
In my application, however, I come more from a Linguistic/Universal grammar appreciation versus the stricter Element of Style philosophies, because at that point it might as well be music theory. A study which, you lose if you don’t use. It’s kind of like counter-point, you can approach a piece of music and not necessarily be wrong in the chords within the scale you’ve arranged across the measure, but from a counter-point standpoint, be dead wrong in what I guess you might call the ‘eloquence of composition’ because of the inversions or fingerings of those chords you chose; “the bass note of the Major III not leading to the…”; “it would have been better if you had used the second inversion here and the third here…” (or some such), again I haven’t used it in so long I only really remember I was in over my head when it came to terms of counter-point; walking away with an overabundance of red pen marks. But all the inversions and all the proper chords within the scale had been annotated correctly, that was a huge win; had those fundamentals been wrong the professor couldn’t have even moved on to putting the counter-point on blast— In grammatical terms: I may not know what the name of the grammatical error causing the problem, but I know when it sounds wrong.
All this said, I still aim for and am an advocate for proper grammatical usage, but not having a well-versed knowledge of it I can’t exactly break down what I’ve been doing shot gun style and figure out/speak to the finer points of what I’ve been doing, even with my own writing.
Question #4 - At what point in your writing process do you start to bring other people in to review your work?
Point of sale.
I’m a complete cynic thanks to the overwhelming percentage of people who haven’t read things I’ve sent them. I’m at a point where I’m convinced the only time folks are going to read my work is if it’s been printed and bound. At which point, they’re paying for it. They kind of had every chance to read it otherwise.
Question #5 - What advice would you give to a new writer about the writing process?
Don’t write just to write. I mean... do, but have a purpose that you think speaks to advancing the dialectic/Universal consciousness. I don’t care if you’re new or been doing it for twenty years. Put reason to the writing. Just being good at it isn’t enough. Find a reason for telling that little anecdote to give it that much more purpose. Depth and meaning are huge.
I would much rather work on something with a relevant aim ‘badly,’ than something that does nothing more than serve as a definitive form of escapism ‘well.’ What are you trying to contribute to the cultural paradigm? Ideas and betterment or candy and euthanasia? Remember, our time is limited even though baby needs a new bottle and bonnet. My opinion of you as a writer is also riding on this. Choose wisely. Or better yet… invite the dialectic into your life and find a synthesis between the two. There’s no reason you can’t get your diabetes from something relevant.
I don’t mean to sound arrogant, I like consumable, page turning writing (when I’ve read it), but I don’t necessarily strive for it myself, because, well, there’s too much of it already and someone is already doing it better than I could ever hope to. In fact, I made a decision to stay away from anything that isn’t considered literature for the most part because of that fact. Am I missing out, I’m sure. But I’ve also never actually really liked reading, if you can believe that, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out. Also, If I’m going to participate in something that generally puts me to sleep, I find there’s more benefit in picking up a subject that directly concerns something I’m working on or in trying to understand what masters of the art have done to command such a consideration.
It’s funny, one of my background projects I will release in two forms, the so-called: ‘complete intended tome’ and the ‘condensed consumable’; think of it like a hearty stew versus a can of Campbells. I sometimes spend days and hours on chunks of marbled meat narrative to get their comedic philosophical and convoluted facets to read in a somewhat coherent fashion; work which will ultimately be ‘cut from the consumable,’ for fear of choking the reader and, if I’m being honest, because they don’t deserve the choice cuts of meat if they don’t want to put in the work to dissect them. But I will often read them once they are done to my mother, then explain the jokes and the layers and she’ll figuratively pull her hair out. “No one wants to do work when they read!” Broad generalizations aside, I’m sure there is some merit to the comment and I understand where she is coming from, But I think there is something to be said for work that is layered and must be broken down and analyzed, just try to make sure that smallest nested egg is a golden nugget. No one likes digging for no pay off.
Writing to me is more often like homework than it is magical; probably why I work so slowly, I’m always fighting it, but when it is magic and all the -sometimes months of- tedious work come together, nothing beats that fleeting three second moment where I’m laughing my ass off and vigorously rubbing my hands together. Synthesis is a great thing. That’s ultimately why I’ve decided to apply myself towards it, even though for the most part, I’m not a huge fan of doing so.
Yeah, so, I basically write for me; see my answer to question number four for the reason why, and I suggest you do so for yourself also. Because if you are happy with what you did, nobody can take that from you except yourself or a house fire. So, don’t burn candles.
Oh, and look up the words you use, even if you’re sure you know what they mean. I can’t count the number of times they haven’t meant something I knew in my bones they did (There are probably a few words that I missed in this interview that stand as prime examples). See ‘Piles.’ The only reason I found out I was wrong was happenstance editing or really listening to what Mel Gibson said to the dog on the beach in a televised airing of Lethal Weapon 2.
My goodness, aren’t these answers incredible? This is going up on my quote board: Because if you are happy with what you did, nobody can take that from you except yourself or a house fire. So, don’t burn candles.
If you want to keep track of Brian and the wonder of his writing, you can check out his Carcerated Grammar on Channillo.com. You can also follow Brian personally on Twitter @dizzyke. On Instagram he is @jasper.pdog.
One last note from Brian: “The other Brian Dykeman who I call the ‘Real’ Brian Dykeman is @BrianDykeman on twitter. Give him some love and tell him the other Brian Dykeman sent you.”
Thank you Brian!
If you would like to be featured as a writer in the #WritersQuick5 series, please just reach out and let me know. I’d love to promote your work as well!
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