James Scott Bell
As we close up shop for a couple of weeks here at TKZ, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the year past and the year to come, and to pause and be thankful for the blessings you enjoy. If there is one thing world religions and secular philosophy largely agree upon, it is that gratitude is the key to happiness. Learning how to be thankful consistently may take some practice and discipline, but it can be done. And it is so worth it.
You can start by being thankful that you’re a writer.
Be thankful because you get to play. You get to make stuff up. You get to spin yarns that have the potential to move people. Do you know how hard that is to do? But when you do it, when you hear from a reader of your work who loved it – even if it’s just your Uncle Harry – there’s something magic in that transaction. And people today have precious little magic in their lives. You do.
So be thankful that you’re a writer.
It’s work, to be sure. It can be frustrating and bewildering and angering and insane. It can keep you up at night and wandering the streets talking to yourself like a mental patient without his meds (though what you are really doing is figuring out what your character might say in that scene you’re working on). There are plenty of obstacles and set-backs that happen in a writing life, but you know what? Those are the very things that make you stronger. If you persevere, if you care, if you feel your calling in your heart and mind and sinews, if you know deep down that you’re a writer, keep after it. If you do, when the dust all settles, you will have found a rich satisfaction in this passion of yours.
Because most folks don’t feel much passion for anything. As Thoreau famously noted, the mass of people “lead lives of quiet desperation.” But you’re a writer, so at least if you ever do feel desperate, it’s not going to be quiet! It’ll shout and beat drums and cry and scream. But that very noise will pull you out of despair and get you back to the page, where your passion lives. Writing will save you from ever being stuck in the Land of Bland sequestered in the Army of the Drab.
In Herb Gardner’s great play, A Thousand Clowns, Murray Burns tries to explain to his bland brother why he dropped out of the “rat race.”
Arnold, five months ago I forgot what day it was. I’m on the subway on my way to work and I didn’t know what day it was and it scared the hell out of me. I was sitting in the express looking out the window, watching the local stops go by in the dark, with an empty head and my arms folded, not feeling great and not feeling rotten, just . . .not feeling. And for a minute I couldn’t remember, I didn’t know, unless I really concentrated, whether it was a Tuesday or a Thursday or . . . for a minute it could have been any day, Arnie. It scared the hell out of me. You got to know what day it is. You have to own your days and name them, each one of them, every one of them, or else the years go right by and none of them belong to you.
You’re a writer, and your days belong to you. You can name them and own them. Be thankful for that.
And don’t fall into the trap of thinking money is the sole measure of success in this game. That’s only a part of it. Even so, the incredible thing is that it’s now more possible than ever for a writer to make something from writing. If you have the goods, you can find the buyers. The buyer might be a traditional publisher, or it might be a reader out there downloading digital. But you are living in a new golden age. Never have we had the choices we do now. Even if you only make a pittance it’s within your power to do so, which means you’re better off than the great majority of writers in the whole history of scribbling. Do you realize how fantastic that is?
Be thankful that you’re a writer!
Don’t be ashamed of it, don’t be afraid to call yourself what you are, don’t let the naysayers and critics (even if they are in your immediate family) keep you from doing what you love.
Here comes 2012. Resolve to write for all you’re worth, which is inestimable. Because, as Brenda Ueland puts it, each one of you is original and talented and has something important to say. A writer is original, Ueland says, “if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself. But it must be from his true self and not from the self he thinks he should be.”
Be done with the shoulds. Tell your stories and don’t hold back. Give your imagination freedom to run. Study the craft because it’s your friend and helps you express your true self on the page.
And one thing more: keep on writing for the rest of your life. Don’t stop. Ever. Why should you? You’re a writer, after all, and that’s a wonderful thing to be.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and have a Joyous and Keyboard-Clacking New Year.