There is always the last word, the closing argument, the final chapter in any storyline. The End – this is where the reader closes the book and says, “I wish there was more…”
As we write our personal narratives, our words gather momentum as we age. Recall that great feats and resolutions happen towards the end, not at the beginning. Perhaps that is the reason memoirs are generally written in the “denouement” stage of life. Looking through the lens of age it is easier to sort out the complications and fashion a fitting outcome to a life well lived.
Gloria Swanson confessed, “I’ve given my memoirs far more thought than any of my marriages. You can’t divorce a book.” Winston Churchill said, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” Conversely, the Comte de Lautreamont said “I will leave no memoirs.” Frank Harris, editor and journalist, declared that, “Memoirs are a well-known form of fiction.”
Whether we write, paint, sing, dance or live our memoirs, one thing is certain – no one else can write our story as eloquently or passionately. The journey continues – write with enthusiasm. Recall the words of Frank Herbert, “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
Why write? There’s always a reason or purpose to scribble on a piece of paper. Over the years, my writing has been associated with work– business reports, letters and correspondence, case studies and academic research. I never considered my words and sentences as “real” writing.
Indeed, many consider writing to be in the form and context of the social sciences or literature. Most writing, however, occurs in every day moments – a thank you to a friend; a text message to and from a co-worker; an e-mail from a supervisor. Writing involves a complex skill set that involves creative thinking, cognitive development and understanding the community in which you are a participant. In its simplest and most profound structure, writing is communication. Every time we type a word or scrawl a quick note, we engage in the noblest purpose of all – a conversation. As Albert Camus eloquently stated, “the purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.”
Paulo Coelho said, “Tears are words that need to be written.” What better way to acknowledge the grieving process.
Friedrich Nietzsche declared, “All I need is a sheet of paper and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside down.” Words are a powerful force.
Anaïs Nin reflected, “The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.” Becoming a writer is choosing to look at life differently, to see beyond the immediate, to accept our responsibility to seek the greater good.
“I love writing but hate starting. The page is awfully white and it says, “You may have fooled some of the people some of the time but those days are over, giftless. I’m not your agent and I’m not your mommy. I’m a white piece of paper, you wanna dance with me?” And I really, really don’t.”
A writer’s block is defined as an inability to write or produce new work. Writer’s block is a well-known problem that has been witnessed over the centuries, with varying levels of intensity and time durations. At some point, writers will experience the “joy” of staring at a blank piece of paper. The good news is that others have experienced this phenomenon. Ernest Hemingway said, “I rewrote the ending of ‘Farewell to Arms’ 39 times before I was satisfied.” David McCullough said, “There’s an awful temptation to just keep on researching. There comes a point where you just have to stop, and start writing.”
Writing blocks, while they may be painful, challenge us to advance and progress. The career of a professional writer is not for the fainthearted. It is demanding, capricious, disappointing and all-consuming. The story, the idea, the discussion so clearly understood within our minds, must find a way to the outside world. Sometimes words fail to adequately convey all that we would like to share.
Barbara Kingsolver’s solution is to “close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” James Thurber didn’t mince words, “Don’t get it right, just get it written.”
“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
“In Hollywood the woods are full of people that learned to write but evidently can’t read. If they could read their stuff, they’d stop writing.”
The turn of a phrase, a specific word, a striking first sentence or a surprise ending – those are the moments when reading becomes remarkable. I still get chills when I read Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” And who can resist, “and they lived happily ever after.”
Writers are the best readers. Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” J.K. Rowling agreed, “The most important thing is to read as much as you can, like I did. It will give you an understanding of what makes good writing and it will enlarge your vocabulary.”
Writers need to hear the voices of other writers. Blended voices do not imitate or mimic; they unite and introduce harmonic structures that resonate with creative understanding.
Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.
Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
“And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
I try to imagine William Shakespeare reading a book on the rules of writing. Rules create a comfort zone, even for those magnificent free spirits who feel constrained by their limitations. Grammar and punctuation give structure; subject and verb agreement eliminates confusion; omitting redundant words brings the thought into crisp focus.
W. Somerset Maugham once advised, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what there are.” Mason Cooley, professor emeritus of English, speech and world literature at the College of Staten Island said “there are different rules for reading, for thinking and for talking. Writing blends all three of them.” He didn’t elaborate on the particulars so I assume that it is an individual exploration into the three activities. He did say, however that “when you can’t figure out what to do, it’s time for a nap.”
Writing is an inward expedition. With every idea, word, sentence, paragraph we are constructing our personal rules. It is our journey, our voice and our message. When we offer our thoughts to the world, we invite others to join in the conversation. Ernest Hemingway likened it to a well supplied by fresh water.
“I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.
If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.”
One of the maxims of promotion is to identify a target market so that you can construct a marketing program that has a realistic probability of drawing an audience, consumer, listening or reader. Many creative individuals rebel against the commercialism of this type of approach even as they recognize that monetary considerations cannot be ignored indefinitely.
The stakes are considerable. Food on the table and a roof overhead is a reality that we all face. For writers, there is the added uncertainty of artistic direction. Writing may be finding that delicate balance between the need to write what is in the heart with the desire to please an unknown audience. Yet, it seems that those who listen to their inner voice achieve the greatest reward – they have responded to their calling.
“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”