Writing can be bliss and it can be lugging a bag of cement across the Sonoran Desert in August. For me, most of the time it fits somewhere between the two. Maybe it tends to lean a bit more towards bliss. There is often that moment when I sit down with all the good intentions in the world of putting tons of brilliantly written sentences on the computer screen. I walk away, and my inner Faulkner feels more like my inner Pee Wee Herman. My little demon critic whispers into my ears, “Well, that was fun. Any particular reason you picked today to use every adverb and adjective you’ve been told a thousand times not to use?” But sometimes it feels RIGHT! I keep writing.
I have some great writing friends. Maybe they are not great writers, but they are damn good. They pour their hearts and souls into their work, and they turn out some excellent work. One of them sent out an e-mail today saying she’s sent her manuscript to the book formatter and cover designer. My friends and I have watched her struggle, write and perfect her to-be book for the past year and a half. It is going to be very good, and I can hardly wait to hold and read it.
I had coffee with another writing friend recently, and I heard and saw the angst and effort he puts into his work every time he sits down to write. And it’s going to be good too. The story in his head is magical.
Writing is a solitary endeavor, but how great it is when you have good honest friends to share it with, friends to pull and push you along, and then freely cheer when you have even a small success. That is to me the real joy of close friendships.
The following words are those of Paulo Coelho, one of my favorite authors. These words were spoken in his acceptance speech delivered to the Brazilian Academy of Letters.
“The glory of the world is transitory, and we should not measure our lives by it, but by the choice we make to follow our Personal Legend, to believe in our utopias and to fight for our dreams. We are the protagonists of our own lives, and it is often the anonymous heroes who leave the deepest mark.”
These words have resonance with me. No matter why you write, why you run, work, or why you dream of and work for your utopia, it is transitory and yet – It Has Meaning. Even if only to you. No matter how small or how large our dreams, they will never come to fruition if we are unwilling to fight for them. And who knows, you, or me, or anyone may end up leaving the deepest mark.
The critique group in which I belong recently, as a diversion from what we generally do, decided to write a critique of Ernest Hemingway’s – Hills Like White Elephants. The short story was written in 1927. To make a short story even shorter, none of us was very impressed. One of the group members later wrote a satirical version of the story that was far better and more fun to read. Hemingway was perhaps a bit like Scotch, an acquired taste. Yes, I know, hard to dismiss his success, and hard to forget how his life ended.
The best writing leaves some lasting impact on the reader. You may like it, hate it, want to forget it, or forever remember it, but it needs to leave some effect on you. Here is a short poem that demonstrates that sentiment. It shows it like few others.
It was written by the Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen, born in 1903 and died in 1946. The poem is called Incident.
Once Riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”
I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December.
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.
If that poem does not evoke something deep inside you, perhaps you need to see a doctor. It is not my place to tell anyone what they should feel, but I risk saying that we, as a species, must feel something about writing that precise, that powerful, and that beautiful.
For those of you who are writers, trust yourself and write. For those of you who do other things, do them with enthusiasm. Another quote I saw recently, No Guts, No Story. That same sentiment applies to many things. Take risks, it’s scary and yet far more fun than playing Tic-tac-toe or being satisfied with “good enough.”
I wish you the best success. Go well. David.