What does “honest prose” mean?

Recently I’ve been getting the writer’s itch. It’s been so long since I’ve committed time to writing. I used to want to be Hemingway and Camus and the Bronte sisters. We all fantasize about the romantic life of being a real artist.

The talent is/was there. Now I’m not so sure. Perhaps I just need to pedal a few miles before it comes back to me. Maybe a marathon. Writing itself is a marathon. Only they keep moving the finish line tape so you can never finish. Like a Zeno Paradox.

See, these sentences are terse because I can’t juggle bigger ones like I used to. I guess I really am coming at you like Hemingway, though with him there was intention; with me right now it’s purely a by-default circumstance. I can’t flex a muscle that’s been slumbering for the past year and change. Step One is to just wake the damn thing up. Get it to rise out of dormancy. Stand upright and reach the bathroom door without collapsing. Then piss and poop out all the rust. Excuse the vulgarity.

Earlier today I re-watched Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris” for the umpteenth time. Allen’s Hemingway is obsessed with honest prose. Sometimes I understand what that means. Other times I feel like it’s just artists being artists; that is, ostentatious, pretending to tap into concepts and frameworks that don’t really have any pull; masturbating and shooting all over the canvas a million times, calling it art and judging you when the only thing you see is a bunch of gooey stains.

But if there is such a thing as “honest prose,” I’d like to try my hand at figuring out what it means. Probably best to start with the antonym “disingenuous.” Define, eliminate, and then create.

So what would constitute disingenuous prose? Maybe it’s writing that reveals someone’s having used the thesaurus too many times. For instance, instead of saying, “They sat at the bar and drank themselves into an irrevocable stupor,” a disingenuous writer might say, “Together they sat perched [my note: like fucking birds? Get the fuck out of here.] on the antiquated barstools and proceeded to inebriate themselves to the point of near-unconsciousness and insensibility.” Which is an atrocious way to write. I used to write like that. I used to pride myself in knowing the $10 words and throwing them into my prose, whether they fit the circumstance or not, because clarity was not my first priority; letting you know how dope a wordsmith I was took precedence. I think they call that “purple prose.”

Honest prose, then, would have to be the opposite. Writing without the thesaurus. Caring first and foremost about the message and making sure that the intention plays out like it’s supposed to. Gavin McInnes’s intention when writing about how asinine the SJW¬†mentality is might be that by the end of his piece, you agree with him. On the other hand, Kafka’s intention when writing about a hunger artist might be to confuse the shit out of you; perhaps he hopes you question and second/third-guess yourself about whether his story is meant to be taken as-is or satirically.

I haven’t put too much thought into this as you can probably infer by the lack of structure and lazy stream-of-consciousness. That’s okay. My goal right now is just to type something up and publish it. Like I said, make it to the bathroom without collapsing.

So here’s where I’m at: after exploring the topic a bit, I’m defining honest prose as prose that successfully hits on the writer’s intention. Purple prose doesn’t hit because only gullible readers will be impressed with $10 words and sentences. Your intention is to impress, but most people will just think you’re an asshole.

Honest prose, on the other hand, delivers on the writer’s true intention. He uses whatever ammo is in his artillery to break down every defense the reader puts up. The reader, then, is powerless to direct her own train of thought; instead she follows whatever trail the writer has set up for her, unknowingly but nevertheless obediently–but only if the writer is a good writer.

Maybe it’s good to think about it in terms of masculine/feminine. You lead, she follows. But she has to implicitly trust you first. Hence the word “honest.”


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