Do Not Go Gentle Onto That Good Page

James Scott Bell

Do not go gentle into that good night . . .Rage, rage against the dying of the light. – Dylan Thomas

Brett Favre, one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game of football, was supposed to be over-the-hill at 40. But he recently finished what is probably his finest season and almost got the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl. In the NFC championship game against the New Orleans Saints, he took a beating. He was on the turf constantly, sometimes under 380 pounds of beef. In the second half he got his left ankle twisted, limped off, got re-taped, and came back into the game. But for a number of turnovers by his teammates and one ill-timed interception, the Vikes would have won. It was an inspiring performance, adding to his legend.

Robert B. Parker, creator of Spenser and one of the most prolific authors of our time, died last month at the age of 77. He was supposed to be over-the-hill, too. Some critics thought he was, but most readers did not. Parker was turning out books to the very end, and not just in his Spenser series. He had other series going, including Jesse Stone, which Tom Selleck has brought to TV. He also wrote stand alones and Westerns.

He was reportedly about 40 pages into a new Spenser novel when he died at his desk of a heart attack.

For a writer, baby, that’s the way to go. I only hope I’ve just typed the last page.

Regardless, Favre and Parker are two guys who refused to go gentle into that good night. To write well, there has to be a part of you that is determined to rage, rage against the dying of the light––and against rejection, criticism and the slough of despond.

You’ve got to have some attitude.

Now, this attitude is not the same as arrogance. Arrogance shouts and gets tiresome pretty fast. Attitude is just as ornery, but it’s quiet. It does its work and keeps on doing it. It wants to prove itself on the page, not in the mouth. And it refuses to give up.

A knock on Parker in the latter phase of his career was that he wrote too much, sacrificing quality. Well, that’s between him and his readers. He wrote, they bought, they enjoyed, maybe some got frustrated. But the relationship was lasting, and the man was doing what he loved.

If you love to write, you’ll find a way to do it. No one can promise how that’ll turn out. No one can guarantee you a publishing contract. But you’ll never get close if you don’t rage a little, and turn that into determination to keep writing, keep going, keep producing the words.

My grandfather and my mom both wanted to be writers. So they wrote. My grandfather wrote historical fiction and ended up self-publishing some of it. It’s really not bad at all, but it’s very niche stuff. Yet I remember him being proud of it, and it pleased the family.

My mom wrote radio scripts while she was in college in WWII. I have a whole bunch of them. Quite good. She worked on a small local newspaper when I was a kid. I remember, when I was twelve or so, finding a short story she wrote, a sci-fi kind of thing, that had a cool twist ending. She never got it published but it influenced at least one young writer––me.

So do not go gentle onto that good page. At the very least you’ll know you’re alive, and you won’t walk around (as Murray says in A Thousand Clowns) with that wide-eyed look some people put on their faces so no one will know their head’s asleep.

Rage a little, throw the heat, write.

How do you actually feel when you’re writing? What’s going on in your head? And how long do you expect to be writing?