Karen, and Other Hopeless Writers

 Last week I submitted a blog entitled Four Critics (http://allevenson.wordpress.com/four-critics/).  It was based on a simple notion and offered to writers as a new idea that might be a useful tool, to keep and use.

Several people wrote to acknowledge and thank me for the small addition to their writer’s toolbox.

My friend, and steadfast supporter of The Year on the Road Blog, Karen from Minnesota, wrote the idea was amazing, and it made her think there was no hope for her as a writer. I have spent some idle moments in the last few days considering how to best let her know she’d stumbled onto a false trail in the writers’ thicket.  So this is for Karen and whoever else is listening.

Karen,

What is that hopeless thing that you’ve decided is unachievable?

Before you can answer, you must ask yourself two simple questions.

Why are you writing and for whom?

This phase of my writing career—or, honestly, this latest try at writing—began a bit over three years ago.  And soon after I donned the armor necessary for another joust with the Writing Satan, I was invited to join a small critique group, four people who’d met in a writing class.  They were mystery writers and I was invited to bring my short stories, sing bass, and supply gender balance.

My inviter, Barbara, was a vivacious sixty-something woman, who had accumulated eighty years’ worth of husbands, children, grand children, and jokes.  At some point I asked her a question about her plans to publish.

“Oh, I am not going to publish. I am 82 years old, much too old to deal with the chores of publication.  These days you must schmooz up an agent, wait for him to schmooz up a publisher, who expects you to schmooz up book store owners and people of the street.”

“So why do you write?”  I asked. 

“Because I like to write, I like to polish what I’ve written and, I like my critique group.  They are people I like to hang out with, and they help me to write better.  I make progress and I try to help them do the same.”

An innocent conversation, eh?  Yet I’ve never had a more important writing lesson.

In the years since, by the tiniest of baby steps, I have learned a little about craft and technique, but Barbara’s remarks saved me from the bloody self-flagellation so many writers fall prey to.

So, Karen, I am paying Barbara’s lesson forward.  Write for yourself–without any expectation of recognition.  If any comes along, it will be pure profit.  Getting to be a better writer will be a struggle that will never abate.  But you will get better.

When it stops being fun, take up something else.  I am planning on the harpsichord.

 Sincerely,

AL

14 Responses to Karen, and Other Hopeless Writers

  1. MaryAnne says:

    Hey Al,
    when U master the harpsicord let me know and I’ll have you teach me the dulcimer.

    Great advice and support to Karen….Good ON You~

    MaryAnne

  2. Colleen Rae says:

    Al – that was spectacular advice. My favorite creative teacher once answered a student’s question – “When can I call myself a writer?”
    My teacher answered, “If you are writing nearly everyday something and are enjoying yourself, then you are a WRITER.” I have always remembered that advice because I considered myself a writer even before I published anything.
    It’s not what you call yourself but what you love to do in life that counts.

  3. Colleen Rae says:

    BTW, I play the dulcimer.

  4. Dave L says:

    What the hell is a dulcimer?

    • allevenson says:

      Don Quijote’s girlfriend?? ;-)

      AL

    • Colleen Rae says:

      A dulcimer is an Applalachian Mountain instrument with three or four strings and tradionall played with a turkey feather. Many musicians however, use a pick or their fingers. It is played sitting on the knees and stroking the strings while fingering the frets. Check it out on the Internet. They are a beautiful and haunting instrument.

  5. Bill says:

    Hear hear – – well said! Listen to the voice of experience Karen.

    From one of the full time RVers inspired by Al “who once sold me a great boat”. We are in Southern Virginia seeing the sights – Harpers Ferry, Luray Caverns, Blue Ridge Drive and family. On to the Outter Banks and Florida for a few months then who knows where?

    Keep up the good writing . . . and photography my friend.

    Bill & Rebecca

    • allevenson says:

      Great to hear from you, Bill. Been wondering what became of you.

      What became of the boat?

      If you get up to the Eastern Shore of Md, Greg would love to see you.

      I will get to FL eventually. One to three months depending on how I like cruising the Gulf Coast. I expect to home base in Ocala National Forest and spend some time in Sarasota.

      Hug to Rebecca.

      Stay in touch,

      AL

  6. karen wittgraf says:

    You, my dear friend, are not only a writer, but a person of value. I am honored that you spoke personally to me and that you care. Thank you. I have to say that when I write it is because I am inspired by something, and it is for myself. It’s like, once written, I understand my own feelings better, so it is with a sense of relief that I finish..the “ahhh” factor. And, you have made me realize that I can be a “writer” because I write and that’s enough. I am going to take another creative writing course through Community Education, in hopes of learning more. Again, thank you!

  7. michael says:

    You hit it on the nose for me. I write because I enjoy it, never expect to publish, just enjoy crafting the story to better understand my life experiences.

    Sometimes it is an enjoyable compulsion . . . .

  8. Carol F. says:

    Dearest Al,
    You are so insightful. Always love your words of wisdom. Reminds me of some of the lessons we learned when our little reading group studied The Artist’s Way.

  9. AL PEDERSEN says:

    HI, BUDDY, I SIT HERE IN MY ‘IVORY TOWER’ READING YOUR BLOGS AND MARVELING AT YOUR WRITING SKILLS. IN MY VIEW, THE SKILLS OF A WRITER ARE JUDGED BY HIS/HER ABILITY TO CLEARLY REFLECT THE FLAVOR OF A TOPIC. I AM RATHER VERBOSE BUT YOU ARE MUCH MORE CONCISE AND CLEAR. MY THANKS FOR YOUR INCLUDING US IN YOUR MUSINGS. MY DOOR WILL BE OPEN IF YOU DECIDE TO STOP BY AND MEET SOME ‘OLD FOLKS’. THIS IS A RETIREMENT COMMUNITY WITH SPACE FOR A YOUNG 82 YEAR-OLD TO ROAM BRIDGE 3 TIMES/WK. LOTS OF OLDER FOLKS. STOP BY…
    AS EVER, BIG AL…

  10. Tanya Grove says:

    I saw a wonderful play a few nights ago called How to Write a New Book for the Bible. The protagonist’s mother was ill and her two sons were discussing who would take care of her. The older brother said, “Well, I have a job.” The younger brother said, “I have a job too!” The older brother replied, “No, you’re a writer.” According to my seat mate, I laughed the loudest. It’s true that most of the world may not see you as a writer until you are a Stephen King or a Joan Didion. But what matters is how you see you. And unpublished or not, I will proudly admit that I am indeed a writer.

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