Monday, December 04, 2006

Writing It Down ...

On online pal Steff's site, The Last Ditch, I read a post about writing. She began:

"I'm having a hard time coming to terms with writing of late. I think this is an ongoing thing, I doubt it's going anyplace fast. I love it, I hate it, then I hate it some more, but it compels me, and being a bear of little spine, I allow myself to be so compelled.

I have a book I read from time to time to remind me of what it is I get from writing. It's an anthology called Why I Write and it has a hell of a mix of writers in it, everyone from Norman Mailer and Denis Johnson (who my fiction has been compared to, whoo-hoo) through to Pat Conroy and William Vollmann. The passages are widely varying depending on the author, but the gist of them comes down to why, indeed, they write.

I ask myself that a lot. Why bother? I don't get anything out of this."

Reading Steff's post got me to thinking about writing, and a scene from the movie "Shadowlands" popped into my head. ("Shadowlands," if you don't know, is based on the life of C.S. Lewis, who wrote "The Chronicles of Narnia." "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" is one of my favorite books, one that I've read several times. And I don't usually read books more than once. They have to be exceptional to entice me to return.) In the scene, Anthony Hopkins, as Lewis, says of praying, "That's not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God, it changes me."

Today, I realized that's how I feel about writing. I don't write because I want to write or because I expect some grand reward. I write because it's who I am. It is my means of self-exploration.

And yet, as with all omnipresent things, I take it for granted, a la "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."

I am in awe of my friends who can write songs becasue I can't write songs. Or perhaps I can. But I've never tried.

Dave and I once had a conversation about his abilities as a composer. Dave is very modest, but he's terrificially talented. Gifted. And what I conveyed to him, that night, was that his ability with music is remarkable because it's rare. Most everyone, to some degree, can write with words. The results may not be particularly poignant or eloquent, but most can put words together to make an intended message understood. Very few, however, can communicate through music. And Dave doesn't have the benefit of lyrics. All his music is instrumental. He has no words at his disposal. (Though in his non-composing life, he is a very good writer.)

In a post at the end of October, I wrote this:

"For the longest time, I didn't consider writing one of my talents. It's just something I do. And I do without effort. Words just flow from me. I rarely stop to think about how to write. Writing just happens. And it's because of that ease that I never considered that my writing might be worthwhile. Something so easy can't have value, right? We don't pat ourselves on the back for breathing."

I need to be more in awe of what it means to write, to write well. I'm grateful for my abilty, but I don't think I fully value it as a gift. And I haven't pushed myself to hone my talent in other writing arenas.

I marvel at authors of fiction. I love the idea of writing a novel, but I don't think I'm a novelist. I've tried writing short fiction but to weave together all the threads of a novel? I don't know if I have the knack.

Speaking of short stories, some people think that short fiction is a cop-out. I couldn't disagree more. Short fiction is its own niche. It's very challenging to write tightly enough to convey a whole story in a handful of pages. Novelists can and do prattle on ("The Corrections," anyone?), but writers of short fiction need to develop a story quickly and concisely.

Much of what I've tried to create as fiction relies heavily on dialogue, which made me realize that perhaps I'm better suited to writing screenplays. Well, screenplay. I'm only working on one.

Someday, I'll finish it. And then, someday, I hope to have another idea.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Jay said...

You reminded me of a friend of mine in college. Of course, college was back in the late '80s, so my friend (who I went to high school with as well) was actually studying to be a nuclear engineer. THAT'S what you call "back in the day."

Anyhow, Bill graduated a semester EARLY in nuclear engineering. And one day, after we were both gone from Champaign, we were sharing a beer at a watering hole in Forest Park. Bill turned to me and said "you know, I really envy you."

"What?!" I said, turning to him. I mean, here I was, a lowly reporter making about $14K a year, and he had just graduated with a degree in nuclear engineering and had (at the time) a good job paying him tons of money.

"What are you TALKING about?!" I said.

"I envy you. You can WRITE. Whenever I had to write a paper for class, or anything like that, it would take me WEEKS to do it. I wouldn't know where to start. But it comes naturally to you," he replied.

So I told him he was drunk, and he agreed.

Okay, I made that last part up. But you get the gist.

People with a talent often underestimate that talent, or certainly don't think it's such a big deal because it comes naturally to them. Instead, we look at others, in terms of talents they have that we don't, and we marvel at them. It's almost a "grass is greener" scenario, if you will.

The trick is to know what that talent inside you is, and to follow it (if it's what truly makes you happy). Because it's the people who do THAT who never end up working a day of their lives.

11:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's easy ... follow your bliss. I'm a true believer that when you find your niche, you will know it because it won't be work and you will love it.

4:25 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Love this comment, Jay. It helped spawn the new blog. You're so inspirational.

And yup. Anonymous, you're right. Do what you love and the money will follow.

I think the issue for most people becomes that period between the loving and the money. So they take on something else to pay the rent, and they get stalled out in the ordinary world.

But I for sure know that I'm happiest when I'm creating things, so create things I shall. The cookie blog will be a good experiement.

8:03 AM  

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