“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
And so what will the new year bring? More promises to do what we didn’t do this year? How about a hope that hope springs eternal that we are all we need to be the best of ourselves. How about we not only finish what we started but that we do in fact start. How about a world in which our stories bloom and grow and transform the world. How about it?
“It’s interesting. On the one hand, I always dream of “total removal,” escaping to some beachfront hut in the tropics, writing in solitude, with nothing but fruits, vegetables, and WiFi to sustain me. But I’m not built that way. In truth, I can write wherever I find three things: silence, light, love. That is to say, I’m no good at writing under hermetic conditions, cut off from the world. I need to feel connected to people (my friends, my family, my husband); to know that at a moment’s notice, I can touch them, laugh with them, share a meal. So the trick is to leave just enough distance between my creative life and my emotional one that the journey out is never too daunting, the journey back never too long.”
Readers: We will be returning to the business of Great Writing in just a little bit. But first I need to ask you for a favor…
We are really close to wrapping up our long awaited writing manual and writing tools tutorial. We will be releasing it later this month. But before we do I have to ask you a very important question. If you could click on the link below and answer just a few very important questions about writing we would really appreciate it. It is a very VERY short survey (two questions) but it would go a long way in helping us complete a very exciting project that will help every writer who wants to take his or her writing to the next level. Thanks!
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
A fellow writer who usually gives me great literary audios to listen to, told me he had something he wanted me to hear. I agreed with giddy anticipation. But it was not a literary recording at all. It was a recording of an open mic night at a club. The recording was of a comedian recounting his first appearance on the Tonight Show when Johnny Carson was still the host. He started out with the above quote from Charles Dickens. And than he preceded to tell us how he had the highest moment in his career the same year his two-year old daughter suffered a relapse with cancer. For the next ten minutes he took us through a heart wrenching account of having to be funny for a total of three successful appearances on the show while also having to caretake his little girl and eventually bury her when she lost her fight with cancer. It was one of the most heart breaking audios I have ever heard. It reminded me of the year I received my first National Endowment for the Arts grant. My brother was in a coma due to medical negligence. The hospital told my family it was hopeless even though we saw evidence that he could still hear us. They went so far as to turn off his ventilator one day when we left the hospital for the day but he did not die as they predicted. It was a heart wrenching year but I received a NEA grant. Best of times, worst of times. This, dear writers , is the stuff of great stories. Of universal stories that cross color and culture lines. Timeless stories. The stories of people putting one foot in front of the other in the face of great tragedy. Of people finding love and laughter even though their world is falling apart. Best of times….worst of times. And great writers find a way to tell these stories. I’m not talking about taking crude short cuts to elicit tears; killing babies, A.I.D.S. diagnosis, etc. I’m talking about building real characters and taking us through their journeys. Killing a baby is a cheap trick if you don’t take us through that parent’s journey. Any disease diagnosis is devastating. Give us a face and a friend or lover or mother to go with that diagnosis so we understand why that loss is so great. Best of times….worst of times. Universal stories are not stories about colorless or culture-less people. Universal stories that touch us all are stories about the strength of the human spirit. The resilience of the human heart. Best of times…worst of times. Great writers find a way to write it.
I vividly remember my best rejection letter. I was fifteen years old and I submitted a horrid little poem to the now defunct Black World Magazine. I wasn’t particularly attached to the poem as I was tired of form rejection letters that gave no hint of why my work was rejected. So I sent the rejection letter back to the editor and told her I rejected her rejection letter but due to the large volume of rejection letters I received daily, I could not go into details about why I rejected her particular rejection letter. My sister and I laughed long and hard over the returned rejection letter. And than something wonderful happened. The editor wrote me back. She was kind. She told me my work showed, “promise,” but suggested I joined one of the local youth writing workshops in D.C. The workshop she directed me to had a cut off age of fourteen and I was fifteen. The coordinator of the workshop, Eloise Greenfield, suggested another workshop that might let me participate. This workshop was the John Oliver Killens Writers Guild, the D.C. equivalent to the Harlem Writers Guild. That workshop changed my writing and my life. And it was all due to one little rejection letter that I would not accept. Take an action. Change your writing and your life.