I’ve got a terrible confession to make.
I confuse the word write with the word right. That’s how seriously I take this business. Way too seriously, if you ask me.
Therefore many righter’s websites leave me seasick. How you gonna get it write, if you start right off by reinforcing falsehoods? Which is what most righter’s websites do.
Lie #1. It’s all about winning, about success, about the money. Doesn’t work that way. The best writing comes from those cold and unlit chambers deep inside. Righting is as much about discovery as it is about cash. There are gems down there, horrors, but there’s also muck.
Night soil is what they called it, when human waste was used as fertilizer. So shit had a value. This doesn’t mean that when people squatted, they were thinking, “I’m gonna get the big bucks now!”
Lie #2. It’s about the writer’s ego, the writer himself, or herself. It’s about some exalted personage, a celeb. It would be better to kiss Jane Austen than to read Pride and Prejudice. All prose is a striptease, and if you just press the flesh, the words can be discarded. I admire writers, some I even revere, but these are not necessarily the people you want to see naked. Just for starters many of them are dead.
This may sound quirky, but it’s not. Like a fingerprint or a signature, a prose style is unique. But the self is the lens, not the object viewed.
Lie #3. Writers should be thankful to their customers. There I was washing dishes, with my Sony Walkman fastened to my belt (yes, it was that long ago). I heard Annie Lamott, in her own voice, thanking me for buying the recording of her book Traveling Mercies. Instead of listening to my own idle and odious thoughts, I got to hear a lively and authentic defense of faith. And Annie Lamott was thanking me? I don’t think so!
Nor am I thankful when people buy a book of mine.
I spend years reading, interviewing, taking notes. I stir this in with all I’ve learned to date. I spend thousands of hours trying to get the essence into prose. When I’m finished the customer gets my best thoughts in the way the man who buys a diamond gets coal.
Some people think I’m a moron, taking up space, breathing air that should be kept for others. But they’re not going to buy my book. What if they do? Well, then they’re betraying their own first principles and are more to be pitied than to be thanked.
I am, however, deeply indebted to other writers.
They’ve amused and educated me, but often they’ve done more than that. They’ve made me less alone. They’ve blasted a shaft down into those cold and unlit chambers. They’ve let the air in and the light.
Since this is my own website, I will display examples of my own writing, but the quote window—top of the page—is for snatches of language composed by others. Most of the writers are dead, so as to avoid copyright infringement. To these people, I am truly grateful. They got my attention. Most of the time they got it write.
This is the speech I gave in April when Westchester Arts gave me their prize for being an artist, a prize I was certain my mother [(92) and in the audience] would be amused by. (In photo from L. to R.: LuPicard, Ben Cheever (me) and John Nonna.) “I’m too polite to...read more