At age ten I decided to be a writer. My friend and I were in our favorite reading spot, a small clearing in a wooded area with a blanket between us and a colony of ants. I hugged my just-finished book to my chest, watched wisps of clouds drift across the blue expanse of sky, and relived every precious moment of the story.
“I’d love to do this,” I said.
“What?” Karen continued to read and munch on a cookie.
“Write stories. Books.”
I watched for her reaction and it took about three seconds for the words to sink in. Then she closed her book and sat up. “Then lets do it. We’ll be famous.”
Fueled by mutual enthusiasm we started putting words on paper in simplistic efforts to create our own essence of the books we loved so much. My fantasy was to write a story so wonderful it would inspire some future ten-year-old girl to spend an entire afternoon sprawled in a wooded hideaway savoring my book. Maybe she’d even decide to perpetuate the species.
We carried our dream through high school and into college, where we tried to adopt a Bohemian attitude that seemed fitting for “future famous writers.” I went to a boring Community College, but Karen went to Wayne State University in Detroit, a creative oasis inhabited by artists, dancers, musicians, and writers.
When I visited her, we’d put together some appropriate outfits and join a party where people loudly debated the merits of Joyce in one room and read original poetry in another. We were both so naïve, we had no idea that the blue haze hanging over these rooms wasn’t from the incense.
What I didn’t know then, and took me too many years to learn, was that there’s nothing magical about establishing a writing career. I wasn’t going to become a better writer by absorbing that funky atmosphere. No publisher was ever going to be there to discover me. And I’d never write a single thing if I didn’t stay home now and then and ratchet a piece of paper into my old Royal manual.
Sure, there’s magic when the words just flow and you know these last ten pages are the best you’ve ever written. There’s magic when your characters start talking to each other and the lines zing. There’s even a bit of magic in finding that one word that says so perfectly what you’re trying to convey.
But there’s no magic on the business side of writing. Sometimes there’s luck – being in the right place at the right time with the right project. More often, success comes after diligently studying the marketplace, editing and rewriting your book until you never want to look at a single word again, and learning how to ‘sell’ yourself.
We who put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard, do so out of a driving need to say something. Thoughts, ideas, opinions, feelings stir around inside us seeking expression. If we never make an investment of time and effort into the business of writing, our expression will have a severely limited audience.
I may never be famous as that long-ago dream envisioned. And I may never earn enough money to buy a country estate and wile away my golden years in obscene luxury. But I can take comfort and pride in the fact that I did, and still do, face that blank sheet of paper everyday and make myself put words on it.
And I’d like to think that Karen is doing the same thing. I lost track of her before I ever had the chance to tell her she was much better at it than I am.