Ladies and gentlemoose, it has been a while since there has been a good jacking around here. To solve that remission, I reached out to fellow audiophile and writer, Todd Skaggs. And so, without further ado, let’s jack this place up!
JW: I’m currently listening to Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine” album. I find this incredible dichotomy to their music – a melange of complexity and simplicity, very often found in their genre (but few do as well). It reminds me of a thought that graced the meat within my skull the other night. I was pondering my produced work vs. the perception I have of my work. What I try to do is craft books that are similar in nature to Massive Attack’s music. Take an oftentimes simplistic topic, such as the apocalypse, and paint it with a more complex brush. That complexity doesn’t have to be limited to the narrative, but can be layered on via the words and phrasing; akin to a minimalist composer blanketing their landscape of sounds with a richer poetry of words. Do I always succeed in this task? No. Do I always shoot for that complex moon in the doing? Hell yes I do.
Because it’s who I am and my writing is, if nothing else, an extension of that person; the ID and EGO that slammed together, upon early onset adulting, to make me, well, me.
TS: I have the album playing as well, although sadly not on vinyl currently. I do have “100th Window” on vinyl, which needs to come out soon. What I find interesting is the fact that you mention Massive Attack in the context of their genre. I think most would agree that their primary genre is trip-hop. Funny thing is, there really wasn’t a trip-hop genre prior to Massive Attack. I think it’s safe to say that when “Blue Lines” came out in 1991, people didn’t know what the hell to make of it. It was amazing and ground breaking and now it’s hard to think of the time before that. And I think that ties in beautifully with the concept of perception we, as creatives, have of our work. Did Massive Attack set out to change the musical landscape? Or did they have something burning that that they had to lay down on tape? Only they know for certain. We as listeners are left to ponder and second guess and apply meaning to something that may have just as easily been something they didn’t think twice about.
It makes me wonder, what do people think when they read my writing? Do they know what was really going on in my head when those words bled out on to the page?
For me, my perception of my work is all over the board. There are some things I am really proud of, where I know I hit the mark. And others, where I know I’ve fallen short and need to spend some more time with the words. And that’s the perception. But I honestly have no idea. Most days, I’m still surprised people are reading the blog and hitting the like button on the poems I’m putting up on Instagram and Twitter. It’s a very weird thing, this idea of self-perception and audience perception.
JW: Every artist, regardless of what medium, is their own worst critic. During my thirty years as an actor, I had people all around me praising my work; and yet, every single day I beat myself up saying, “But I could be better!” I think that innate drive to perfection is the thing that helps to define who we are as artists. I will write a sentence and then step back from it; stare at it until it no longer makes sense and then say, “I can make that better!”
This is the very reason why I don’t revisit my earlier work. I know I’d look at it and say “This is not who I am now.” Although that may be true, it was me back when I originally wrote the piece. To honor my craft and past, I leave that work untouched. I want people to see, laid bare before them, the evolution of me as a writer. That is just as important as is perfection in the moment.
I’m certain years from now I’ll look at my current work and say, “I can make that so much better!”
There is, of course, that rare occasion when you look at something you’ve previously written and say “I cannot improve on that.” For me, at this point in my career, that piece is “Hell’s Muse.” That is not ego, that is truth…my truth.
TS: I’m glad to hear (read) you say that, actually. I was worried-or is it hopeful- that I would grow out of that doubt at some point. I think the takeaway for me, though, is that some of that criticism can be healthy. As long as it doesn’t’ become crippling.
I had kind of a gut check in August of 2016. I was at a writer’s retreat with a writing group I had recently joined and it came time to read a couple of chapters from a work in progress. And that was really the rubber meeting the road moment for me. I held those sheets in my hands and looked at the 15 other people in the room. Some of these people were published. Some of them were just starting like me. The rest were somewhere in between. But we were there because we wanted to better our craft. Do I own my words and put them out there or do I pass?
I read those chapters and five minutes later when I was done, looked up. I had 15 pairs of eyes looking at me. Wanting to know what came next. That was the moment I believed it. The moment I knew that I was on the right path. This was before Imaginarium, which really sealed the deal for me.
I’ve edited those chapters now a few times. And I know that years from now when I read it again, I will be the same way-knowing I can do better. I’ll have grown and become more secure in my writing voice, but I can’t see myself going back and changing things either. Not just because it’s a reflection of who I was at the time, which as a writer is key to anything we produce, but because someone is going to read it and it’s going to be exactly the thing they need to read at that moment—just the way it is. And that’s a powerful thought to me, to know that what we do has the power to touch someone as it is. We get to create these worlds for our characters and readers to inhabit. It’s a kind of magic.
JW: Exactly. We write what we know and feel in the moment and that is one of the most powerful tools of our trade. Why? Because we have this immediate connection to the driving force behind the words; whether it is known on the surface or tucked deep within the sub-consciousness. Our words are an extension of our souls, our lives, the narrative we both seek and create. To deny them in that moment is to deny our truth as artists.
To that I say, write boldly and own every syllable to flow from your fingers as if it is the only thing that matters in that moment.
TS: Yes! That’s the crux of it. I think it’s easy for a new writer, and maybe even seasoned writers, to shy away from that side of it. It takes a certain kind of bravery to say, “Here. This is my soul. I couldn’t keep it contained inside any longer, so here it is for you on this page you hold.”
I think we owe to ourselves as writers, and to the craft and community as a whole to remember that. Those words you hold are somebody’s soul at the time they put that on paper.
I have been very fortunate in the short time that I’ve gotten serious about my writing to be able to connect with writers, you among them, that believe that it’s better to raise others up. That kind of support is invaluable. The best thing we can do as writers is to help each other stay true to that urgency and truth of self that comes with each word that we write.
I have to say, I’m pretty pumped to get back to my writing now!
About Todd Skaggs
Side stepping societal norms of what makes a writer a writer, Todd has happily wandered down the path of writing for one simple reason; It’s cheaper than therapy and is still the single best way to exorcise the demons.
Living in Ohio and enjoying all four seasons in a single week, Todd works in the IT world by day and plays with words any chance he can. The hobby has evolved in to a serious pursuit and he has several releases on the rails for 2017.