Sunday, February 22, 2015
New writers. I love them.
I’ve been privileged to meet a few, and one quite recently, who reminded me of the passion writing can engender. She was open to possibilities, eager to work, and so full of ideas and notions that they bumped into each other coming from her mouth.
It was both wonderful and amazing to see the light in her eyes, and speaking with her I had the strange sensation of passing the baton to a new generation. It felt good, if somewhat scary.
I distinctly remember the very first time I was published in the Washington Post. It’s as fresh in my mind as the last time I was published in Chrysalis, a wonderful magazine that, like many, fell victim a few months ago to online publishing. I can’t recall every story that has worn my byline, but I had a gratifying moment about a month ago when I found a briefcase full of long-forgotten clippings. My stuff, published long ago and now yellowing.
The enthusiasm I had in decades past for putting words to paper still resides somewhere inside, but it’s been tempered by the necessity of using those words to make money, and I have not done that particularly well.
In the years I’ve spent writing, there have been books, magazine pieces, documentaries, short stories, newspaper articles, and radio programs destined to be heard in developing countries. There’s even been the odd play or two, and dozens upon dozens of songs. Some have been performed; most have not, and none, not one, has brought fame or riches, or retirement benefits.
Yet every word typed was read and reread; every sentence was parsed. I still pore over each page I type and sometimes almost memorize it. I ache over dialogue. I have authored endless bons mots. I am totally enamored of creating characters and watching them grow. If I’ve built them well, if I have succeeded in imparting some humanity to them, then they sprout legs and walk away from me without once looking back. They become intent on leading their own lives, which I can only chronicle, much as a man watching the night sky might witness a comet. It has never been dull, or quotidian.
I believe in the paucity of words, and I am sure that over-writing is the eighth cardinal sin.
I have played fast and loose with grammar and have fought a losing war with the serial (or Oxford) comma—that little earthbound apostrophe that precedes the conjunction before the final item in a list of three or more items.
I have authored sentences that go on forever with minimal attention to punctuation, much to the annoyance of editors I’ve worked with. I have tried to paint with words. Sometimes, I am told, I’ve been successful in creating such imagery that the reader stops and savors the moment.
My new friend has a good start. She has word sense and sentence rhythm, and if she strings too many adjectives in a row, it’s an excusable fault. I still do it all the time, and I do not have the defense of inexperience.
I’ve promised to help her whenever she wants, but I wonder if that was wise. There are much better—and more successful—writers out there, and the sort of stuff I do is no longer as popular as it once was. I like to think I write literary fiction, but it may be a dying skill. Still, sitting across the table from her was a rare joy.
We writers are caretakers, and builders and architects. We are the memory of man and womankind. We may save the world, and if we fail to do so, we’ll be there to chronicle its ending.
What greater responsibility could we possibly have?