The Writing LifeI write a lot. It is both my vocation and avocation. I'm not sure how many words I've put to paper, but I'd guess it is well into the millions. I've written everything from newspaper articles to button labels on websites. I've written instructions that could have meant death if not properly understood. I've written words into the mouths of powerful people. Mrs. Poobah and I met through writing - we were pen pals before we were a man and wife. And, of course, I write this blog - every word of it.
I first became aware of my talent for writing in the third grade. As a class assignment, I wrote a science fiction story about astronauts traveling to Mars. As the teacher handed our papers back, she told the class that one story stood out in particular. I drowsily half-listened to her ask the writer to come read the story in front of the class. As a mediocre student at best, I knew it couldn't be me. I was never recognized for anything. I was so convinced it couldn't be me, the teacher called three times before I heard her.
A career was born.
When people compliment my writing I feel exactly the way I felt in that classroom 43 years ago. Who, me? I'm still astonished when people are moved by what I write. I've swayed opinions and evoked powerful emotions with my writing, yet I feel a little guilty when people tell me about it. I think about how easy it was for me to write the piece. I often feel I've cheated the person in some way. Isn't power like that supposed to come from dead-hard toil where every word sweats out like perspiration in a sauna? How could I have so cheaply changed a mind or evoked an image? It's quite baffling really.
I don't see my writing as world class. There are millions better than me. I know, because I've read many of them. At the same time, I recognize I'm serviceably good at it. Nothing flashy. Solid. Yeoman-like. I just write down what I think and leave it at that. I have a tenuous connection to my work. I never save clips or articles. That seems conceited to me - like the Happy Painter saving his happy little tress and happy little mountains to remind himself how good his mediocre work is. I don't fight my editors or clients tooth and nail over every changed word. When my thoughts reach paper, I figure they no longer belong to me so readers have every right to change them or take them however they want.
A woman once told me I was her favorite author - right behind Stephen King. I didn't know if I was complimented or insulted. King and I both have our shtick. His is books. Mine are anonymous pieces that are invisible and so seamless the reader doesn't recognize it as writing. I succeed when a tiny voice leads them were they want to go. We are both commercially successful in our own ways, but that doesn't mean either of us are in line for a Pulitzer of Nobel.
The Attention Span of a Gnat
Many people have told me to write a book. I answer that my attention span is that of a gnat. I could never muster the requisite discipline and patience that writing a book would entail. But there is another truth I don't usually discuss - there simply isn't anything that interests me enough to sustain a book.
Discipline of mind is not one of my stronger points.
Unlike those who consume my words, I often find what I write embarrassing. When people tell me my words have touched them, I generally see my words as overwrought. If a compliment says I write clearly, I see all the edits I know could make it better. I don't often read what I write, but when I do at arms-length, I become a little less critical of myself. But, I'm never heartily pleased with my production. That idea of perfection is about as close as I come to being an artist rather than a word grinder - someone whose biggest asset is the ability to uncover things readers already know or feel.
It's Not a Bad Life
So, I've written enough for this morning. I must leave for my day job, where I'll write a few hundred new words. It pays well and I find it creative within the bounds of its structure. I'll attend meetings and pull facts from my teammates. I'll face an occupational hazard - people who tell me how to write based solely on their ability to operate a keyboard. Forty-three years of writing experience boiled down by someone who can't see the difference between their writing and John Steinbeck's. I'll write more when I return home. You might see it. You might not. I am the editor of my own work when I write for pleasure, and hopefully yours.
All in all it's not a bad life.
Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Friday, May 11, 2007