I was thinking about last night’s Blog–“The Fools Who Dream.” I hope I did not sound whiney insisting that “writing is a vocation” and not just “fun.” Yet it seems to me that doing anything well requires discipline and hard work. This is even as I had to learn to work hard, in college, my single year of grad school, and my first job afterwards. I was in fact one of those errant students who in my youth teachers decried, “If she would only work hard,” even as they celebrated the good ideas that I did seem to have. I know as an adult, however, that good ideas without work ethic don’t pan out.
Nonetheless, I do favor something of the left wing of education’s premise that “a person will work hard at things they enjoy” or “a person should pick something for their career that they enjoy.” I know, intellectually, that work like factory work is usually done by somebody whose primary happiness in life is done at home, who may not truthfully enjoy the mechanistic work he is required to do. I guess this is necessary to society, and that lacking an education a person might fall into that kind of work out of necessity. Yet ideally I wish all people to find the kind of happiness in their work that writers have. It seems like ideally people will find satisfaction in working hard and doing their work well.
So I will give the reader a hint about the writing life: there is no point in being a writer if you do not enjoy writing. Period. More, if a person is not a voracious reader, it seems like writing is a perverse occupation to take up, too. I know intellectual there are people who take up writing who were not readers from birth–the example of Laura Ingalls Wilder comes to mind. The Ingalls family had few books outside of their Bible when she was a child, and no children’s books. Yet Laura herself loved to read as an adult and pined for education from a young age. To emphasize the point, another great writer who did not get to read as a young person was Frederick Douglass. As a slave, books were of short supply. More, it was illegal to teach him how to read. Yet he paid young white boys his lunches to teach him how to read, and then as an adult he would collect many books. Both of these two individuals craved books and education. That is why despite their lack of schooling they wrote so well.
I had obvious advantages that these two did not. I remember reading Laura Ingalls Wilder in grade school, but also a plethora of other books from the Alice books to The Secret Garden. I read all three of Frederick Douglass’s autobiographies in early high school, but before I read them I read David McCullough’s Truman in the summer between my 8th Grade and 9th Grade year. Though I did not understand any of it, I attempted to read The Scarlet Letter in the 7th or 8th Grade.
I read books meant for adolescents as an adolescent, though truthfully, many of the books that included were awful as literature. I can’t help thinking with envy of Laura’s Pa telling stories when I think of Sweet Valley High (a few of which I read in Middle School) and Sweet Valley Twins (many of which I read in grade school). Though I did read Jack London and a few others, in adolescence I read largely Star Trek novels, not all of which I would recommend for a child. Because of the absence of “great books” for adolescents, I hope myself to write several “adolescent” books: Jeremy and Peninah and Mowgli. I know why there is a lack of descent “books for adolescents”: it is such a difficult age to write for.
Anyway, for me writing is a discipline, almost a creed, but it is one which demands creativity and energy. That is why I have journals I write in and need to have a schedule according to which I live. The journals I write in are for ideas. Well, most of them are. I do have a COVID-19 Journal I’ve kept from 2020 till today. (Only Hard Times in 2020 exists on a single document on my computer; I suppose I ought to at least arrange 2021 on one document on my computer.) I look forward to the day when I can stop journaling about COVID-19. In the meantime I write just under 500 words a day on Hard Times in 2022. My writing journals are more fun to keep, though the idea is more utilitarian than Hard Times in 2020-2022: it is book, short story, and poem ideas to be written out long hand and then typed up on my computer.
Many people truly enjoy coming-up-with-the-ideas fun while having trouble going on to the “putting it on paper” stage more difficult. It is certainly the easiest part. However, writing from an inner free-flow from ideas alone is difficult. This is why I tend to make outlines… people think they love the open-ended nature of writing in a free-flow way until they stare at an open page with no idea what comes next. I have written both ways (free flow and outline), but on principle I think a writer needs some structure or they will not know “where I am going next.” Of course, many people who have no trouble with the initial writing next see the Labors of Sisyphus in the next: editing. I have learned to enjoy editing. I admit, when a publisher sends me something asking, “Is this the way you want it?” I still groan. Yet for the most part, when I go back over manuscripts, I am able to look at my own words happily, seeing the images I hope to make real for the reader become real for me.