Tenacious Dee

In the writing world, much of our advice becomes trite. Partly, I think, this is because it is true and therefore gets batted around so much it becomes tattered and, at times, useless. For example, my last post was about Write what you know. I have the feeling I could have written the first two words of that phrase with an ellipses and you could have filled in the blank. Hey! For fun, let’s try that with a few more pieces of writerly advice.

  • Kill your…
  • When someone tells you something is wrong…
  • Read a lot and…
  • Quantity produces…
  • Open with a…
  • Show,…
  • Skip the…
  • Keep…
  • Never…

The answers, or course: darlings; they are almost always right; write a lot; quality; bang; don’t tell; boring parts; writing; give up.

Now, the advice that I have on my mind today, which I often have on my mind, is part and parcel with the last two pieces of advice above. Keep writing. Never give up. Because as trite as it is, it is true that writers have a super-long-haul kind of job with very few markers to let them know they are headed in the right direction. Writers have to put word after word after word on the page, day after day, then keep those words building toward one big end, then try to act sane while their already-published books languish. Sometimes this process, before some sort of break, can last many, many years.

When I was a kid, my dad built me a loft for my bed. It had to be almost six feet tall, pretty close to the ceiling. It had a rail along the edge to keep me from falling out. (Thanks, Dad.) When I was a kid, I was also obsessed with flying. Not in a plane, no, but just me and the wind and perhaps a pair of giant wings. To this day, I want to go skydiving and learn to pilot a plane, but what I secretly want is to take off from the ground and shoot straight up at the birds.

When I was around eight years old, I woke up every morning and thought to myself, Today is the day. Then I would sit on the railing of my bed, concentrate really hard visualizing myself swooping down the hall and out the front door, and then I would jump. I can still remember the surge of hope rising up inside my chest, and the immense let down when my feet hit the ground.

The next day? All over again. And the next and the next and the next. Always the same.

When re-telling this story to my kids the other day, I paused and said, “And that, my friends, is the type of person who becomes a writer.” Because–saying the trite in yet one more way–writing takes guts and lots of them, but it also takes immense and illogically repetitive hope. Or in the words of Dorothy Parker, “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” It won’t be easy. It won’t be quick.

I am a person who still believes, after all the knocks and rejection and disappoints, that I can write something great, that people will eat it up, that I will be rich and famous and sell a billion books. It may be ridiculously stubborn. It may, indeed, make me certifiable. But it is what brings me back to the computer every day when I have made negative $100 for the month of April. I believe I can fly, and it will be today.

And I’m also laughably imaginative.

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