Sunday, April 27, 2008

Paper Mountains

Today marks the Greek Orthodox Easter--check out Lavinia Ladyslipper's blog.

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This may seem out of place for a Sunday post, but the following essay entitled "Paper Mountains" was written a couple years ago, in the middle of an angst-ridden rant that I finally committed to paper. Maybe it'll mean something to someone else; maybe it'll just read like a temper tantrum (a good spleen-venting sometimes helps, though). For what it's worth, here it is:

I believe many things, but what I am seeing clearer each year is this: life is too short to be blunted by the notion that what is difficult should not be done; that only what is easy should be attempted; that even noble ends, if they cannot be achieved instantly or with minimal discomfort, must be set aside and replaced by what requires little sweat, little patience, little sacrifice of any kind.

I am a writer. My publishing accomplishments are few: essays, articles, short stories, poems. However, I want to be a novelist, and to that end I put one word at a time on paper until I have a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a chapter, a manuscript. Some of my fellow writers tell me I am creating stories no one wants to read. I am doing what cannot be done.

But how does anyone know what the end will be? I am still climbing the mountain, and have not yet seen the view from the top. If others cannot see the mountain, is the mountain no longer there? Because others are weary, must I be content to sit beside them? If they seek another way, must I go with them? Must I convince myself – as some have – that half a journey is the entire trip?

Life so rarely happens as we would wish it. My teachers and friends were convinced that I would publish my first novel by age sixteen. That might have made me a novelty – no pun intended – but it might also have made a shallow book.

Now more than twice sixteen, I still have moments of doubt, of youthful uncertainty that anything I write is worth reading. Greater than my insecurity, however, is the knowledge that what makes me a writer is not measured by how I compare to others or how much money I make or how many people know my name, but by the fiery words that blister my brain and boil my dreams until the only way to cool my burning fingertips is to write. I am a writer because not writing is not an option.

Artists draw simulations of life. Photographers capture time. Sculptors push clay into action. Writers create movies for the mind.

The characters that people my thoughts are alive and very real, but they will remain in my imagination – unseen, unheard, unread – until I do the hard work and mold imagination into words on a page.

So the journey will pass – one word at a time, one page at a time – until the day I stand on top of the mountain and see that it is made of paper: reams and reams of it covered with words; wads of it tossed in to wastebaskets; some of it retrieved and smoothed out again and found to be not so bad after all.

This I believe: my greatest challenge is my greatest joy, and I would not have it otherwise.


The Texican said...

Reminds me of the line in the song "Sixteenth Avenue" as sung by Lacy J. Dalton; "And then one night in some empty room where no curtains ever hung, like a miracle some golden words roll off of someone's tongue. And after years of being nothing they're all looking right at you...." No one knows when what you write will be read or heard by someone who can take you to the next level. I've read lots of real crap in bestsellers and wondered about the unheard word artists who haven't been discovered yet.

Eamon said...

At the end of the day why write? What is a writer?

Writing isn't about being published. Writing is about:

- clearing and sorting out the spaghetti in the brain and all the peace of mind this brings
- stoking up the imagination and the joy this brings
- giving enjoyment to others (above all: 'we read to know that we are not alone')

Of course a writer may get published. That is a bonus in the sense that it may bring more enjoyment to more people. And if you earn some money, it means that you can focus a bit more on your writing.

You could go commercial. Where you become more of a sort of copywriter than a (creative) writer. But copywriting is about earning a salary. And copywriting is quite different to creative writing. The only real pleasure copywriting brings is the cheque at the end of the month!

Keep going on the course you think is right Keanan. Only you know what that is / what your most authentic writing is.

(disclaimer: i think ..)

Lavinia Ladyslipper said...

Dem's fightin' words: "but by the fiery words that blister my brain and boil my dreams until the only way to cool my burning fingertips is to write."

Ignore the naysayers...they are simply projecting their doubts and insecurities onto you. It sounds very much as if you *have to* write...its part of your make-up, your passion, and that can't be be true to yourself, you have to give it a shot. Ignore the age issue, there are plenty of writers who weren't published until their 40's, 50's or even beyond.

Your talent is evident in what you write in your blog. When one thinks of all the second, third, and fifth rate books out there, clogging the shelves of bookstores and remainder bins....if you have something truly magical to offer the reading public, then be guided by that...

Eaglewing said...

Very good spleen cleaning rant. Sometimes I think I should can the whole blog and writing thing, then I realize it's not an option. I write because I must. Someday I hope to be published, but the fun is in the creation and the movies in the mind. Good luck on your mountain climb or words and paper!


Tex: I've helped other writers get their books published, but can't seem to do much for myself. But maybe it's 'cause I'm not quite ready yet, inside myself. And this second manuscript is still incomplete. Have to finish before at least one person (who requested both manuscripts) will look at them.

Eamon: Thanks. You asked, "Why write?" Ironically enough, that's the title of another essay I wrote several years ago for the group I belonged to at the time. I've done the commercial stuff. It's boring. I'm not doing it now.

Lavinia: Yep, those are fightin' words! I'm not a terribly combative person--I don't go looking for the fight--but there comes a time to take a stand. I may learn that my chosen subject for these current manuscripts is not what people want. However, I'm attempting to write the kind of books I like to read. Thanks for the kind words of encouragement.

Eagle: I've read some of your stuff, so please keep climbing that mountain, too. Maybe all of us fiction writers on these blogs will meet at the top, maybe share some of those tasty freeze-dried survival meals and make a roaring fire out of our worst manuscripts.

Anonymous said...

You guys are all too cool in these post comments. I'm not a writer but I can apply what you've said to my life. All of these great comments can spill over into everyday living as to what little steps taken can eventually transform into leaps for whatever we find as goals in this mysterious life we've been given.
Thanks to all for you're encouragement, especially you Keanan!