Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Letter To A Writer-To-Be

As children we are encouraged to be creative but this extends only to a degree. Art is seen as something that is desirable only as a distraction, like recess, and no one takes it as seriously as they do math, or science. For course, it is impossible to teach creativity. You can teach someone the basic language skills they need to construct sentences, and you can teach someone the basic construction techniques of a language, but to teach someone how to create is not only impossible, most people aren’t even sure how to encourage such activity, or why they would.
            Have you ever wondered why anyone would become a farmer? I’m fairly certain there isn’t anyone out there who accidently got into the farming business. You either have a predilection for farming or you do not. There isn’t anyone who is in it half heartedly or they are not in it for very long. You have to want it to be a farmer. You accept that even if you do everything right a flood might come along and wipe out all your efforts. It takes a degree of faith to become a farmer most preachers would blanch at having to life with.
            Writing is a lot like farming. It is hard work. It isn’t for everyone. It requires a lot of scratching around and trying new things that may or may not work, and all the while you have to be acutely conscious that all your efforts may not come to fruition. An idea may sound good in your head but once put to print it might shrivel and die. An idea may rot before it goes anywhere at all. Worse yet, like farming, you may discover your efforts have produced a fine crop, but then you’ll find you have to sell it. The market will decide how much your efforts are worth and that may or may not mean you have enough to live on for the next fifteen minutes or so.
            Writing is like farming in that there is no sense in getting in a hurry. You just planted an acre of corn so now you…? The first time you sit down and write it will look like the first row of crops you ever planted. But once it is in the ground you’ll have a very long time before you harvest anything at all. Oh, you do realize you had to water the corn, didn’t you? How much water? Oh, you’re going to find out if you used too much or not enough, won’t you? How much editing do you do to your first work? How is that done exactly? Notice that green line under “enough” in the previous sentence? Why am I right and the green line wrong? How do I know? Because I’ve tilled this soil before, and planted these ideas before. I’ve walked this row before, and it has always yielded good results for me. This is a familiar theme for me, writing is, because like planting crops for food, there is no sense in growing what you don’t love.
            You have to love farming to be a farmer. You have to want to grow crops more than anything else on earth to make it happen. No one has ever made a living farming who hated it. Writing is the same way. It isn’t enough you have a story to tell, even if it is a great story that desperately needs to be told. You have to love the craft of writing. You have to love doing it well. You have to sink your roots deep into the fertile earth of your mind and you have to take care of the art of writing as if God Himself gave you a Gift that you cannot imagine being worthy of receiving. To sit and write has to be something that you enjoy doing to a degree that you cannot imagine living without it. It has to be Holy and Sacred, like bring life from dirt. To sit there and watch others enjoy, truly enjoy, and be nurtured by your efforts is something that farmers and writers share. If you pick up a plough or a pen you’ve accepted a mission that you cannot half ass your way through. You will reap what you sow either way. Either commit to doing it right, or you’ll find yourself eating out of a can, or writing pulp fiction.
            Unlike farming you can’t lose a lot by being a writer because most writers started out with nothing anyway. You do have to get used to the idea that more efforts goes into what you’re doing than you’re getting back out of it. Writing is like that little garden in back of your house where you keep a few tomatoes, some okra, and a few stalks of corn. You can’t hope to sell a lot of it but there is something deeply satisfying about being able to produce what can, with what time you allow yourself to work. If you can grow enough for yourself, and maybe a few others, then you’ve done something good and wholesome. If you can have a few people around you who can enjoy what you write, it is the same sort of goodness.
            I’m not very good at growing things. I would never make it as a farmer. There is no shame in that, because I have never made the claim of being a farmer. I am a writer. I try to write well no matter what I write. It may be that you are not a writer, but do not let the fact that you do not write well, yet, tell you anything about yourself, unless it is to tell you that you can overcome this. You can overcome bad writing like you can survive a drought, or a flood, or locusts. As long as you keep ploughing those rows, planting those seeds, irrigating the crops, and as long as you keep doing this as well as you can, you will see something bloom.

Take Care,
Mike

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