“Lie about everything to anyone who’s a stranger to you.”
Reading excerpts of Walter Serner’s 1927 book Last Loosening, I thought how similar Serner’s lessons for con artists are to our self-styling social media posts today, a century later. ‘Be more than you are, be nothing!’ Followed by, ‘Then you will be something.’ Then when all fails, ‘Go to ground, disappear, and never return.’
“Live for yourself, insofar as possible, consistently.”
“Practice your gaze daily.”Last Loosening: A Handbook for the Con Artist and Those Aspiring to Become One, by Walter Serner, trans Mark Kanak. Twisted Spoon, 2021. Reviewed by Hal Foster, LRB, 22 October 2020
I’m kind of in awe of writers such as Walter Serner — and Patricia Lockwood who manages to say something insightful or witty, or wittily damming day after day in her tweets and essays, turning her writing towards truth-telling, activism, a curated sincerity that leaves her thinking bared to all, but is also sharp-as-a-tack composed. Her poem, Rape Joke, first published online, expresses trauma and humour to shape ‘our moral accountability‘. Lockwood’s new novel is No One Is Talking About. (Want to read.)
From a distance Lockwood seems to find writing easy. She claims (to be a megalomaniac, so perhaps it is easier for her. But not for “us”. Not for my published writer/tv producer/ Logie Award winning friend who sent me this message today:
“I’m going to knit instead.”
“No knitting allowed until the book’s done, luvvie,” I responded.
Take Serner’s council to the writer (who is after all, a con artist), and Patricia Lockwood again: both recommend a pinch of megalomania. Even if just for minutes at a time, you need it as a writer to get you over the hurdle of your worst, most uncertain, moments. We know them: ‘I’m writing crap’, or ‘What am I even trying to say?’ Writers are all different/same.
Here is what I learned while revising my second novel Provenance. Even though I had a contract and a deadline with Vintage along with a lovely editor, even then I would sometimes sit before the screen and need to say aloud my mantra. ‘I hate it, but I’m going to write it.’ I’d taken this brilliant self-help insight from my six year old nephew who abhored most foods, but one day matured-up at dinner with his cousins at my place. I served up a plain as could be spag-bol. He looked down at his plate, and said in his squeaky, loud voice, ‘I hate it, but I’m going to eat it.’
My new mantra relaxed me. I’d given myself permission to write the naff sentence, to be less than perfect, and to have written the sentence (paragraph/page). Revising could come later, once there was something written to revise. As I revised, and wrote, I’d make sure to highlight the ‘bad’ sentences. Same with cliches. I’d highlight the cliche/clumsy sentence/clunkly line of dialogue in stark yellow, knowing that with the crime scene now marked out, I could return to it in good time.
For knitting inspiration, turn to Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting. Seriously, it’s a real book. Contributors include greats such as Anne Patchett and Barbara Kingsolver.