Writing Thoughts

Every writer has his or her own personal requirements to be successful, and that’s often why workshops and courses sometimes don’t work, and why writing gurus often think, I’ve spelled it out step by step. Why doesn’t the idiot get it?

I was once one of those idiots.

The first time that I tried to write a story, I was around fourteen. I didn’t want to write it. I knew I wasn’t a fiction writer [which really meant I hadn’t learned and found the process too daunting. I didn’t have a choice. It was a school assignment. I wrote it. It was grammatically excellent. As a work of fiction, it was far beneath God-awful. As I recall, my English teacher’s comments were something like, “Grammatically fine. Not much there.”

And some readers, for whom action is the only mark of story, might well say, “Not that much has changed.”

It wasn’t that I disliked writing. I had no problems with writing lengthy history papers, but I tended to underestimate the time required to do a really excellent job, a trait not uncommon among teenaged males. I enjoyed going against the grain when I wrote “critical” English papers, and usually got brought up short, but every once in a long while… I actually surprised a teacher, favorably, that is. And I liked writing stories for the tiny mimeographed school newspaper.

But my true love was poetry – traditional poetry. About as far as I’ve gone in enjoying [but not in reading] “modern” poetry are poets such as T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, e.e. cummings, W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas. That’s probably because I love words and the way they sound and how rhythms, rhymes, and meanings forge something stronger than the evanescent mist of most modern poetry. The other aspect of why I liked poetry didn’t dawn on me until later – I could work on something until it was right… or as right as I could make it.

Of course, by the time I graduated from college, where I had two outstanding professors [William J. Smith, who later became U.S. Poet Laureate, and Clay Hunt, a truly brilliant scholar and literary analyst who tragically died far too young of cancer], traditional poetry was largely passé or relegated to chapbooks or the smallest of literary magazines. This hasn’t changed. Even today, rhymed or even semi-traditional poetry is almost verboten at The New Yorker and other “literary” magazines. While I was in the Navy and for a few years after, I submitted to various magazines…and very occasionally got accepted, but only by small magazines and only for work in the “Eliot” vein.

My problem in developing as a fiction writer was fairly basic. At that point in my life, all the explanations about how to construct a story simply did make sense to me. Oh, I understood the terms, the concepts, and I could see exactly why they were all necessary, but assembling a story that way just didn’t work for me.

It wasn’t until I put together “dreary and involved” economics with a beleaguered Coke-swilling junior economist like I’d recently been with money-shifting here and there and no one seemingly caring that the basics clicked. Simply put… I had to feel the story… really feel it.

Now… turning that understanding into reliable professional success, that took almost another twenty years.

2 thoughts on “Writing Thoughts”

  1. Wine Guy says:

    Thank you for the autobiographical snippet.

    “evanescent mist of most modern poetry”

    Great phrase.

  2. Lourain says:

    The poetry that I like can only be completely appreciated if it is read out loud. Too much of modern poetry is ugly when it is read out loud. To me, poetry must ‘sing’.
    On a slightly different topic, I hope you are being mindful about coronavirus exposure. I, selfishly, would hate for one of my favorite authors to quit writing.

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