Wednesday, August 14, 2019


You were governed by two opposing forces, early in the years you'd cast your lot as a writer. Those forces were--and still are--enthusiasm and impatience. You ached for the skills you saw in the writers whose work you admired; you were eager to do the equivalent of daily practice by writing. Sometimes you managed two stories a day. Other times, there was at least something to show for your efforts.

At one point, a person you admired spoke of you as being prolific, a word you well understood but did not see in connection with yourself. Ah, the callowness of your youth. You were some years learning how important revision was.

True enough, you were suspicious of things that were dashed off, first or second draft, but by then, you had a mentor, who published a short story with the title, "The Next, the New, the Promised," which became an early mantra, proof that some mantras are wrong. You later learned that a mantra was best conferred by a teacher who had herself or himself achieved a union with Brahman, at least once. At the time, the best you could do was equate having been published with the notion of a teacher having achieved Brahman.

Your eagerness for the life of the writer has not diminished. It has changed, as all characters in story must and as most persons in Life must. Without knowing so at the time, you were impatient for what and who you are now. You would do any number of things that now seem unnecessary or not productive in order to achieve the simple--or so you thought--state of being able to support yourself from writing.

Some of those things included writing a novel a month, which did not always pay the rent. This meant you had to write short stories and articles for magazines as well, all the while hearing those close about you wondering aloud when you were going to get serious. What they probably meant by getting serious meant writing novels, short stories, and essays that paid big bucks, appeared in top-rank publisher's lists and magazines. 

Some form of awareness sank in when you factored revision into the equation of producing an endless stream of material. The net effect was to slow the output.

When you look at things you did in the past, you often see things you are not as appalled by as you might suppose. The opening and closing pages of a novel published when you were a scant thirty years old remind you of the vision you had, even though you were not always able to see it.

The thing to be learned cannot be forced by enthusiasm or impatience. The thing to be learned must come from a regular application of words onto some medium, where you can see them clearly enough to be embarrassed by them and want to do something to them that will remove the embarrassment.

A few years from now, the things that you wrote in recent days or months may not embarrass you, although there is every chance they will.  Early last week, an editor, speaking of a short story you'd submitted, offered you the choice of including it in a journal or publishing it as a stand-alone. You chose the stand-alone. You also believe it is the best short story you've yet produced. But even so, you're already at work on the equivalent narrative of an actor who has just been given two awards, each for work he has little affection for.

The thing to be learned at this stage of your game is that you've chosen something to do that is nearly impossible for you to do well enough for your lasting satisfaction. You are eager to find something that is, and impatient to get on with it.

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