Image by Myphuong Nguyen – Courtesy of the artist
(This is a revision of my April 2015 post)
When we go online, we find an avalanche of publications, articles, posts, notifications, and tweets. There are thirty-one million bloggers in the USA alone. There are three-quarters of a million Facebook [now 0ne billion] entries each day. One-quarter of the world’s people has smartphones. There are two billion personal computers in use and Apple has sold one hundred and seventy million iPads. One only imagines the number of posts and tweets traffic.
When we write a post, we feel as if we must shoot flares into the night sky in hopes that we might get a visitor or even someone who will invest their time in opening and, hopefully, read our post. I’m reminded of the message in the bottle, cast into the sea.
Obviously, one more blogger is hardly required by an audience that is probably not much larger than the number of competing authors.
Why should one write? I can think of reasons not to write or at least, not to publish. One needs a suit of armor; a thin skin will send you back to your cave. (I must say this blogging community is quite compassionate and forgiving.) Audacity is required for a layman to publish. It takes a lot of courage, metaphorically, to undress yourself in public and the light of day. When one hits the publish button on your final draft, your gate is left opened and your thoughts escape to any digital device around the world, and it is irretrievable. That’s a high hurdle. Of course, you can write and not publish. It remains a value to you.
If your profession is something other than a writer, you need to give rest to the professional part of your brain. Winston Churchill discovered it was impossible to tell your brain to rest. He says, in times of great responsibility and stress, you may wish for your mind to stop your thoughts revolving, but your brain just keeps on weighing, measuring, sorting, comparing and evaluating! Churchill found what does restore your brain is to use some other part of your mind and to do actively something other than your work. For Churchill, it was painting, and he wrote a very enlightening monograph on it. (2) For you, it could be writing. I believe one should write, also because your writing expands your mind and broadens your horizons as surely as physical exercise contributes to your bodily health. “A mind stretched to a new idea never returns to its original size” Oliver Wendall Holmes. (3) When you write, you will read. William Zinsser taught writing, and he states that one learns to write by imitating writing. To imitate good writing, you will learn more, and you will begin better writing. As you continue, you will read progressively better works, even great writing. (4) Time spent writing and rewriting improves the quality of your oral communication and will increase the attention span of yourself and your associates. Tweets with one hundred and forty characters yield information that often is not adequately understood. Many computers have a thesaurus in your dock which will expand your vocabulary. You have the time. Turn off your TV for an hour.
The value of the activity is far more than its product. The rewards of the Japanese Tea Ceremony are greater than getting a cup of tea to drink.
We all “stand on the shoulders of giants”. (5) Among my models are Ernest Hemingway (6), Abraham Lincoln (7), John Steinbeck (8), and most recently, Mary Doria Russell (9).
The Old Man and the Sea, in my view, is nearly perfect. Zinsser tells us that writing is rewriting. Hemingway probed and polished this story of the dignity of an individual refusing to give up in the face of enormous adversity (a metaphor for many of us). He wrote, edited and wrote the manuscript again until there was not one unnecessary word. He had gone through two hundred drafts before he let it be published. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is thought by many, to be the greatest piece of writing since the writing of William Shakespeare. Contrary to some of the Lincoln myths, he did not jot it down on the back of an envelope on his trip to Gettysburg. Lincoln had many drafts, spending weeks, judging the necessity of each word, sentence and phrase until he had arrived a concise, poetic and immortal testament in two hundred and seventy-two words (7) . My newest discovery, and would be a model, is Mary Doria Russell. Russell excels at historical fiction. In DOC, she takes a tired, abused and threadbare myth of the Earps and Doc Holiday, and with meticulous research and character development, paints the more accurate and fascinating middle history of “Old West” America from Sherman’s Atlanta to the nearly unlawful plains.
We can only admire these authors from a great distance, but just as Churchill’s paintings are modest images compared to those of Rembrandt and Michelangelo, his small efforts achieved their purpose, for him, and so might our essays for us.
How does one start?* Anne Lamott (10) suggests that when you find yourself staring at a blank page, imagine a small picture frame one inch long on each side. Write just one sentence for which there is enough space in your little frame. Stop and appreciate that you have written a sentence and you have started! Now write another sentence that follows from you first sentence. Zinsser continues: “writing is re-writing.” Start back at the beginning, reading through and editing as you go.. Add another sentence. Then do it again. My suggestion: save the draft and then don”t look at it again until the next day. I never send anything out during the days of my early drafts. The drafts improve with age; (except, sometimes they don’t). Anne Dillard (11) warns that sometimes you have to delete one of your hard fought sentences or paragraphs. It no longer works. Take it out, you will think of a better one.
“Do it every day for a while,” [Lamott’s father] kept saying. “Do it as you would do scales on the piano. Do it by [appointment] with yourself. Do it as a debt of honor. And make a commitment to finishing things.”
If everyone, or even some new writers, could be persuaded to write a paragraph everyday and exchange their efforts with a dozen correspondents, we would live in a more fertile, forgiving and generous community and perhaps reduce the polarization which assaults us.
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” Hemingway (6)
Charles C. Rogers, August 14, 2015
Also related: http://therogerspost.com/2015/05/30/echo/
1. Myphuong Nguyen. firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Churchill, Winston S., Painting As A Pastime, Rosetta Books, 1932
3 Holmes, Oliver Wendall, Wikiquote.
4 Zinsser, William, Writing to Learn, Harper and Row,1988
5. Unknown, Antiquity
6 Hemingway, Ernest, Ernest Hemingway On Writing, Touchstone, New York, 1984
7. Sandburg, Carl, The Prarie Years and the War Years, Harcourt, 1954
8. Steinbeck, John, The Grapes of Wrath, The Viking Press-James Lloyd, 1939
9. Russell, Mary Doria, DOC, Ballentine Books, New York, 2015
10. Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
11. Dillard, Anne, The Writing Life, Barns and Noble, 1990
*The mechanics are much simpler now. WordPress programs and the cloud, keeps your saved draft current on you computer, tablet and smartphone, simultaneously, allowing you to add and edit wherever you are.