Updike’s explanation

Every writer, despite knowing damn well he or she is a writer and that cranking out a pretty good story or chapter or paragraph is the thing topping the list of what would most like to be done today/this hour/whenever for the sake of making life a little more satisfying, every writer, I maintain, will come upon a need to be inspired, subtly or otherwise.

Sometimes the inspiration is nothing more than the answer to this question: why do I want to write?

The answer can be found in a book on writing by a good writer(s), of which there have got to be at least a thousand.  I have a particularly good one beside me. It is titled The Writer‘s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing, Vol II with an introduction by John Updike.

It suffices to read this introduction to realize that Updike was a genius. I haven’t read anything else by him (yet), which might arguably make me a really bad American (or by counter argument, a wonderful Francophone, since the time not spent reading his work was spent reading you-know-what, and please do not pour any bottles of Moet et Chandon in the gutter outside your house).

How pithy and poignant Updike is: “Fiction was how you consoled yourself in the dark ages before love beads and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” A revolution sings songs and trashes chain-store windows; it does things in a bunch, and nothing is more antisocial and nontribal than one individual sitting in a quiet room coding make-believe for another individual to decipher in a quiet room maybe tens of years and thousands of miles away.”

“Humility on Eternal Record,” a subsection of the intro, explains the value of every single perspective, so that no writer, reading it, could say, “Why do I think anything I would have to say on paper could be of any value against the mountain of stories and books that have already been written?”  I hasten to warn you–this is heady stuff.  (It is like splurging on a 3.4 ounce bottle of Chanel Number 5 Eau de Parfum.)

To conclude, Updike offers this truth: “Fiction can poison our minds, as it did those of Madame Bovary and Don Quixote.  It extends our world, and any extension is a risk. . . . Fiction offers to enlarge our sense of possibilities, of potential freedom, and freedom is dangerous.”

To enlarge possibilities and sense of freedom, many people travel, take drugs or become workaholics.

And writers write.

Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely affair

I’d like to begin this post by thanking my friend and writing partner Julia for watching my back the past couple of weeks. She wrote three good posts in a row to keep our blog current (a must for bloggers who want to attract and hold readers!) while I worked on recovering from a severe case of tendonitis in my shoulders. I’m not rid of the gunk yet, but it’s getting better. Better enough, anyway, to write this short post today.

As writers, our lot is a lonely one. While we may mingle with other writers via classes, critique groups, or book clubs, we do the majority of our writing alone at the computer. That’s why it’s so imperative to seek out other writers as friends and get together with them on a face-to-face basis as often as possible. Writing friends understand how difficult it is to be a writer. The rest of our friends either think we are very cool and thus live an exotic life of luxury, or consider our writing a silly waste of time (there’s rarely an in-between). A good writing friend is like the perfect cup of coffee on a cold winter morning—ready to perk you up and get you going.

We all need that shot of encouragement now and then to keep from becoming despondent (well, unless we have achieved success along the lines of Stephen King). What we do is hard. It’s really, really hard. We work for years to perfect a project which has little to no chance of getting sold to a major house. We try to prepare ourselves for the ultimate rejections that will come back in waves during our agent search.  We flinch at the idea of a zero advance if we are lucky enough to connect with a midlist publisher who is willing to spend $50,000 and upwards to get our book into print. Through it all, we are expected to hold our heads high, smile and assure our family that none of these things bother us in the least. We are writers after all. What did we expect?

I’m so grateful to have Julia in my life. I can grumble about things to her and she understands exactly what I’m talking about because she is or has experienced the exact same things numerous times over. Bottom line, we have each other’s backs. I encourage each and every one of you to keep searching for that special writing friend who will have yours.