Before you can become a writer you have to know how to read. That sounds like a fairly simple idea but I’m not talking about writing in that you can spell most three letter words and I’m not talking about reading in that you can tell what’s on the dollar menu at a local fast food joint, either. When I speak of reading I am talking about reading something that someone has wrote that had come from the soul itself and when I am talking about writing, well, it’s the same thing but on the other end of the pen.
This isn’t about seeing Mark run or look, Janet, look at Spot.
Back when that was considered reading for many first graders I zipped through that stuff like a hot sword through butter in Death Valley. Mark, Janet, and Spot were a few light years behind as to where I was heading with my reading and rightfully so. The only glitch in my education was my writing. No, not the ability to form sentences and paragraphs but penmanship was the issue at hand, no pun intended. In the 1960’s how well your writing looked meant everything. Beautiful writing was formed with beautiful letters written with a graceful hand. My handwriting looked like an epileptic had tried to write during a seizure while he was being attacked by an electric eel during an earthquake.
It was actually a good thing in the long run because of all the beautiful writing there was to be found in the public school systems there were damn few good writers. They were trained to write a certain way, to admire the way that certain people wrote, mostly dead white guys, and everything else that was going to be written had to live up to those standards. There sure as hell wasn’t going to be anything new. But by being condemned by that system I learned, eventually, to operate outside of it.
I’m here to tell you a few things. First off, one of the things I want to tell you is that I have read more than most people I know and I know a lot of people who read. I know good writing when I see it and I know bad writing when I find it on the surface of a page or the screen of a computer. This isn’t some form a magic but rather it comes from a lot of experience in the field of reading. But that isn’t enough. To truly know a writer a person has to be a writer. Before I started writing I really loved some really great books. After I started writing some of those books took on a much greater meaning. The Lord of the Rings as seen through the eyes of someone who reads is an awesome thing. That same book reviewed by someone who writes…well!
Mostly, it is a question of perseverance. Once upon a time a writer could eat through reams of paper and still not have a usable sentence in the whole mess, but now text is as cheap and easy as your power bill can stand it. This does cheapen the experience somewhat and it does make things far too easy but you work with the tools you are given. There isn’t an excuse now to give up on what you started. You can rework it until you get carpel tunnel if you want and not waste a single page of paper.
I’ve had people sent me essays or pieces of writing and I’ve yet to tell someone to give up and go away, even though what they really need to do is give up and go away. These are the people who like reading and like the idea they too could be read one day, but they have no soul for writing. They do not have the spirit within that guides. And they give up and go away as soon as things get difficult. Things are going to get a lot harder before they get any easier. Writing is hard work. Writing is hard. Writing is work. Those are the facts of the craft.
It’s actually harder to convince people they have talent. Why, Mike, if I have talent, then why does my writing resemble a bucket of spaghetti hit by a log truck on a wet dirt road near a hog farm? Because when you start out writing, and for years after you start out writing, most of what you do is going to look a lot like that. Not all of what you do is going to be bad but you’re getting into a field where things never happen by accident. Even the worst batter can hit a ball every once in a while but no one writes well but through practice and sweat and a lot of dark and stormy night type writing.
Do you think the first time you had sex you actually did your partner some sort of good? It could be you did if that person had never experienced anything else, and hopefully that was the way it happened, but even if you thought you were terrible or you thought your partner was terrible, was the passion there? Did you want more? Did you feel like you were getting into something that you just had to do more of and getting better at it was something that made you feel great and warm and special?
If writing doesn’t do something like that for you then you aren’t a writer. Sorry. But if the act of writing, the act of creation, the very act of sitting down and bringing forth from your own soul something that can make other people laugh, cry, piss them off, make them think, make them stop thinking, or whatever it is your trying to do, if that act isn’t akin to orgasm for you then you’re much better off looking for prostitution than love making.
Anyone can find someone to get naked with in a crowded bar on a Saturday night and anyone can sit down in front of a keyboard and pound away at that, too. But to find something within yourself that is special and holy that you want to share in a very intimate way…that’s writing.
You may never get published or get rich or be famous. But you can write well.
Really. You can.