Observations on the Writing Life

Posted by Gregory E. VanArtsdalen on May 03, 2003 at 08:49:53:

Observations on the Writing Life

Why does an individual feel the compulsion to place words on paper for others to read? A simple question that can have no simple answer. There is no one reason behind this force that drives us. It is as individual as the being sweating over a legal pad with a Number Two pencil, pounding maniacally on an ancient typewriter, gently caressing a computer keyboard or speaking into a tape recorder. It is as simple as our desire to express our opinions or feelings on a subject, and as complex as the need to explain the vagaries of the space-time continuum. It is done for fame and fortune, as a means of personal expression, as catharsis, as entertainment, for the sake of vanity or the need to tell a story that must be told.

When, and if, we attain the lofty goal of fame and fortune we are perceived as gurus, geniuses or masters of whichever genre we have chosen. However to reach this pinnacle of recognition we often spend years being described as everything from eccentric, to crazy, to being a bum. This by friend, family and casual observer. In fact, we reside in nearly all of these classifications at one time or another until recognition is ours.

So just what is this "Writing Life" in which we immerse ourselves? Whether vocation or avocation it is simply life, just as experienced by all of the other normal work-a-day people who either admire or deride us for our choices. We awake in the morning, or whichever time of day we prefer. Take ourselves to a place of work, be it a downtown office, quiet cottage, or niche carved out of our home. We toil over our words, our subject matter and our commitments just as others toil over their tools, machines or inventory. The difference is that the writer, by choice, is builder, manufacturer and salesperson in one far from simple package. The writer builds upon an idea, a concept and manufactures a product out of words and shades of meaning which must be sold to a distributor for release to the masses.

For most, no part of this process is easy. The writer must delve into their own mind, those of others or the general world about them for that seed of an idea which must become the concept to be built upon. This idea needs to incubate in the womb of the writers' mind developing through thought, research and experience into the viable concept which eventually matures into a manuscript. One can never fully describe this process adequately because it differs with everyone who aspires to place their thoughts on paper for public consumption. Words themselves are the common thread. Not just any words, but those which paint the picture or touch the emotions the writer desires to excite. A daunting task. Select those words and phrases with care, assemble them with others and review the compiled paragraph only to find that the meaning has been lost somewhere along the way. Crumple the paper, erase the screen and begin again, and again ad nauseam. The work of the writer can be tedious, repetitive and frighteningly unsatisfying. Then, out of the blue, the words, phrases, paragraphs pages and chapters finally meld into that which we seek. A Draft. Now we polish, adjust, tweak and massage that draft to produce the perfect Manuscript which will dazzle a publisher or agent and enshrine us, finally, in the pantheon of literary gods.

After days, weeks, months, or even years of loving toil we are halfway there. The Manuscript; that perfectly typed, wide margined, triple spaced document on twenty pound acid-proof bond wrapped in brown paper and boxed for shipment to the Masers of Our Fate. The pain we have endured to this point has been likened to childbirth and tooth extraction without Novocain, but the ordeal is far from over. The journey from Manuscript to Bound Volume is seldom a sprint or a walk in the park. More often than not it will be a grueling cross country trek, barefoot and bleeding from the wounds caused by rejection slips. Herein lay the proof that you are, in fact, a Writer.

The Rejection Slip; that, often small, piece of paper which accompanies your dog-eared (hopefully), coffee stained, returned manuscript informing you that "...your submission, though an admirable first effort, does not meet the current needs of our editorial staff". A crushing blow. Get used to it for you will collect binders full of Rejection Slips before someone will take the chance on an unknown writer. One day, should you be fortunate as well as talented, your manuscript may return bloody from an editor's pencil with a letter requesting some "...minor changes as noted" prior to re-submittal. Have you arrived? Not quite. It is now that our skill and adaptability as well as your patience come into play. You must be willing, and able, to adjust portions of your "child" to meet the needs of the publisher and his market, while keeping your vision intact. Should your good fortune hold, you may actually see your work in print, and available for the entertainment or education of the common man. Now you are no longer simply a writer, but an Author.

This is the writer's life. Not for the faint of heart or the easily dissuaded. However, for those strong of will, possessed of a facility with the language, courageous in the face of adversity and with a story to tell, an immensely satisfying existence.

2000 Gregory E. VanArtsdalen

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