For the last month, Leo Tolstoy has been loyal and vigilant here on the site. I can’t say he’s been waiting for my return because obviously, he’s been busy writing. Just look at him!
I was supposed to be busy writing too, but I haven’t. In fact, I’ve not been writing anything at all except for some fifteen pages of handwritten memories about a weekend I spent in the Alps eight years ago. But, for those of you who can to visit, there was Leo working away in his peasant dress, at one with his creative self.
One reason I haven’t been writing is that I’m not entirely sure what I should be writing. I’ve spent quite a few years rambling about from one form to another, studying the specifics of different genres and styles.
For example, I’ve learned quite a bit about writing mysteries and about science fiction and fantasy. I’ve learned about travel writing and personal essays. I’ve learned about realism and magical-realism, modernism, post-modernism, romanticism, naturalism. I’ve learned about existentialism (as much as one can learn about such a thing). I could go on listing the these ‘isms’ but it’s a bit exhausting don’t you think?
I can’t honestly say that I ever thought I’d get back to writing. I’ve taken breaks before and talked about those breaks here on the site. Quite often, I’ve found myself unbelievably happy during my respites from writing. Yet this time, I found that I was feeling less than happy but not quite melancholy.
It was truly as if a deep numbness had settled on my mind and my soul. Almost a feeling of sleep, but not the restful sort. The sort of sleep that happens by magic in fairy tales where people fall against their will into a slumber lasting decades or centuries. What a fitful set of dreams must lie beneath the false calm of an enchanted slumber…
And so, I began to sense that I wouldn’t come back to writing this time. I began to sense that I would go about seeking some other way, to finally let go of the demon who controls all those words that hammer against the inside of my head. All those people and their stories – where could they come from except from some foul tormentor?
But sometimes there is such beauty there, beauty that my own feeble skills cannot hope to render appropriately. This of course is the torture every writer must endure, but there is also the responsibility to the creation to the voices that cry out to be heard. This is the service the writer performs for the universe.
I read an article this weekend by Boris Kachka in New York Magazine about the End of Publishing. It’s a sad read in so many ways, but I suppose the worst of it is that it seems to insist that the death of publishing is a foregone conclusion. There is no way out really. None at all. Yet, how could that be? How could something like this just disappear when I have so many things left to say? And if I have so many things left to say, what about the real writers out there? Are they done telling stories?
I think not.
My reading of this article came on the heel of David Foster Wallace’s suicide. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mr. Wallace, he is the author of Infinite Jest is considered to be the brightest star of his literary generation. So, to hear that publishing is dead (with the implication that it expired by its on hand) and that an author of Mr. Wallace’s stature is also dead and gone – I should have experienced an even deeper sense that my writing was nothing but a fruitless struggle. However, I had the opposite reaction…
I got angry. Very angry.
I was angry about the fact that this man had killed himself – and not for the normal reasons people abhor a suicide. I was angry that he turned off the light on all those stories that only his unique voice could share. And I was also angry at the publishing world for giving up on itself. And I was angry at all the readers who didn’t bother to pick up books anymore because they hadn’t the time.
But mostly, I was angry at myself.
I was angry because I hadn’t done enough to put my work out there. I was angry because I always insisted that the work wasn’t good enough. I was angry because I was always looking for some answer, some formula that would magically make the whole thing work when in fact the only formula is:
WORDS + TIME + COURAGE = STORY
To those of you in the literary world who are thinking of giving it up (either literally or figuratively), consider this an open invitation and a call to arms. If you’re struggling, know there are others who are struggling also. If you’re lonely, reach out to those of us who are here with you.
For those of you who write or struggle to write, this is really all you need to know. This is your duty and your calling and you should honor the gift you have by never quitting.
[Disclaimer: This lit rant comes unedited straight from my heart. Forgive the typos for my heart is a fat-fingered thing. And if you need a literary shoulder to cry on my email address is at the top of the page. Now get back to writing!!! :)]
15 thoughts on “WORDS + TIME + COURAGE = STORY”
Your note came at the right time. I didn’t want to post anything because I don’t want to sound like a whiner or have people pitying me. I’ve had back problems for years, but this latest thing is worst. It’s more like sciatica, but waiting on an official diagnosis after having my CAT scan yesterday. Walking was always helpful until now.
Needless to say, this brings down a gal especially one who plays tennis. Thank goodness for my laptop and RX. Been working out of my bedroom office. 🙂
I thought this was a wonderful little rant. I didn’t mind the fat fingers a bit.
@Meryl I hope you get better soon! I had a friend who had back seizures like that. They ended up getting massage therapy to loosen things up so that the pain killers could actually get in there to help. Glad my little rant could invade your day and help! 🙂
@WriterDad 🙂 Thanks!
Kinda scared, too. Afraid they won’t figure out what’s wrong or it’ll require surgery, which means no exercise or tennis for a long time.
Jamie, welcome back! Your post echoed many of my thoughts during your absence. I am so glad that you got angry and started writing again. You do have a gift and it would be selfish to not exercise it, share it with the world. Our gifts grow when used and wither when we choose to hide them. This post touches a deep chord and comes at a time when I am facing life challenges and pondering purpose, mortality, etc. Great, great post. Welcome back dear friend.
Karen Swim’s last blog post..Timeless Tuesday
Hi Jamie, glad you’re back though with the power and Internet problems after the big wind I have not been all that present myself.
This will be one of those time where I will be coming out of left field and probably counter to every other opinion out there. Just be forewarned.
I do see the end of publishing as we have historically known it. I do not however see that as the end of writing. Writing came first and publishing was created to codify and normalize (ie control) it. The publishing industry we have today is essentially worthless either as a realistic gatekeeper against plagiarism and illiteracy and sheer junk manuscripts, or in regularizing a pay expectation or even decent promotion of a published manuscript as a book. Authors do not get the support they really need from their editors or publishers nor do the publishing houses adequately promote the books they do print so as to generate a decent ROI. The whole thing is little more than a game. Do the “right” things to get a publishing house to make an offer to publish but except for a week’s (if you are really somebody maybe more) publicity you are on your own to create your own book tour at your expense while your publisher pockets 80% of the selling price. That’s a lot of really bad karma (or if you prefer, Bad Karma).
The following is advice I gave myself so it is not untested gobbledegook: turn off the voices; really deliberately turn them off one by one. Then choose one thing and write every day about it, print it out and put it in a notebook, and when the day arrives that there is nothing left to say about it then start reading what you had to say and start sorting it out. To do this you must resist tangents that will scream “…but I come first,” and stick to the thing you’re already writing about. I think you really already know this but I’m telling you in case you buried that knowledge somewhere.
Ducks and slinks out the side door.
@Karen Thanks! 🙂 It’s good to be missed and even better to know that I could help someone out! By the way, I stopped by your site yesterday and noticed the facelift on the blog design. Very nice, indeed!
@Deb There’s no reason to slink out the door. Publishing’s woes are real and it will take work to fix. I’m just railing against the attitude that the “reader is dead” or “publishing is dead”. We live in a time when there are new voices added each day to the grand social world we call literature. I think it would be a shame if people quit on that and didn’t realize that this.
Your writing advice is great though. I do agree that you must find the thing that fits and cling to it as if your life depended on it. Running from one thing to the next is a sign that you lack the courage to back up your convictions and stand by the things you create (good or bad), which is the subject of my next post. 🙂
*sigh* I’m walking funny now, after THAT kick in the pants. As soon as I can sit down again, I’ll heed the call to action.
RhodesTer’s last blog post..Lady and The Prince
Okay, THIS is weird.. I decided to stumble your post. Being the first to do so, it called for a little review. Without looking down I wrote, “A rather nice call to action..”
When I looked down, the captcha required to submit it was a rendering of the word “rather”.
RhodesTer’s last blog post..Lady and The Prince
Your post brought to mind something Steven Pressfield closed out his book, THE WAR OF ART with:
“Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.
Do it or don’t do it.
It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.
You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”
Lisa Kenney’s last blog post..Raw Clay and Alternate Endings
@RhodesTer Thanks for the Stumble! 🙂 Rather odd indeed the ways of CAPTCHA. Are you still doing shows on Stickam?
@Lisa That’s a fantastic quote! I’m humbled that I inspired thoughts of Steven Pressfield since I quoted from The War of Art back in April:
So true indeed in both cases. What keeps us from doing what we want to do in life? In the end, we must set whatever hurdles there are aside and simply move on with the work.
>>Are you still doing shows on Stickam?
Not really. I could though. So, yeah.. but no.
RhodesTer’s last blog post..Cron Job, anyone?
“In order to move others deeply we must deliberately allow ourselves to be carried away beyond the bounds of our normal sensibility.” ~Joseph Conrad
Somehow, this quote belongs at the end of this post. I think it will be a fine way to open the next one too. 🙂
This was a great rant, and kicks in the butt to write are always good. I’m putting your formula up on my whiteboard. Thank you.
@Cat Rambo Thanks! I’m glad you liked it!