April 3, 2012

Writer Wednesday with Even Tømte

Filed under: Uncategorized — nascentnovelist @ 11:12 am
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Even Tømte is many things. An artist, a journalist, a writer, a father, a larper, a great friend. So it’s no surprise that he has a way with words. But this piece, which I’m honored to host on my blog, is not only well put, it tells great truths:

1. Writing leaves you exposed. Scary as hell.
2. Break all the rules.

Truer words and all that. I won’t spoil anything else. Just trust me when I say: you have to read this.


Break the Rules

I am a journalist in the specialized press, which means I cover a clearly defined field, for professionals and people with a special interest. I write about international economy, aid, and development for a government-owned magazine. Like most other fields, development has its own tribal language. We use words like MDGs and LDCs and the Paris agenda and good governance, or the Norwegian equivalents thereof. Like most journalists in the specialized press, I find it hard to write in a language that is at once intelligible, engaging, and precise.

The world is a strange place. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find engaging with the world to be a constant challenge, particularly the spaced-out parallel dimension that is the media. You turn the page of your newspaper, shell-shocked. You struggle to keep your breathing calm, reading Facebook, watching the news playing out its grotesque theatre, maybe even watching TV or getting turned into a neurotic by your smartphone. Screaming headlines about a politician tweeting something tounge-in-cheekish, «cultural debate» (is this art? Vote here: yes/no), some model getting «boob shocked», how to get the perfect smile (complete with a price list), cupcake recipes or those darn pictures of cute animals that people keep sharing, and it’s in some weird, fucked-up way your job to read this, ’cause you gotta keep up with the news, and you have this sinister feeling that you’re part of this too. This is how you pay your bills.

No wonder you drink.

No wonder you take up smoking at the age of thirty-one.

Pour me another one.

I recently started writing songs for my band. Stumbling a little at first, but gradually getting better at it. Embarrassed about my own texts, but encouraged by my fellow band members (who are razor-sharp writers themselves). It is great fun, and goddamn hard. No more telegraph-style news, no distant analytical musings or hiding behind sterile professional terminology. Honest, personal, hard, raw. Writing leaves you exposed. Scary as hell.

Going back to the job again was hard. Bills gotta be paid. But the feeling of alienation was stronger than ever. Hard-wired into the journalist ethic is a strong commitment to reality. But is this real? How do you present reality in a formatted, click-winning way with an hour or two of research, without bending and distorting and fucking it over? Do anyone still believe they can read the papers and learn what the world is like?

As a survival technique, I started writing parody. Portraying the absurdity around me, but in a format that is less internalized than the language of «news». Still bending and distorting, but according to different criteria. I find it to be a more honest way of describing what I see. While working, I would jot down impish comments and sentences in my notebook that were never meant to find its way into my news articles. I kept the texts stashed away on my hard drive for my own amusement.
Then one day, one of my devilish little texts started melting together with the actual news article I was supposed to write. I was a little puzzled by that at first, then I thought oh, what the hell and hit the publish button, and there it was. «The naughtiest text written in a government publication in years», one of my superiors called it. My editor loved it, and I thought, maybe I have found a way of dealing with the job after all. We’ll see.

Is there a lesson here? I think there is. Write stuff, write different stuff than you normally do, break all the rules, and then bring something home.


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