There are at least two ways to interpret a closed door. The coward turns an about face, feels sorry for himself, and walks back from where he came. The explorer breaks the lock if need be, opens the door and enters a mystery. Once inside, he records whatever story he discovers, in whatever manner suits his fancy, and tells his tale to anyone who might care to listen.
For about a month now, I’ve stood before that closed door and stared at its handle, afraid not so much of opening it, but more that I might not be able to tell you about what lay on the other side. I’m not at all sure of the exact position I hold on the yardstick that measures a writer’s willingness to risk tripping over the threshold, but I’m certain that I hesitate too often and for too long a time.
A dear friend and fellow writer recently wrote to me to say, “For a writer who knows he has talent to give up and not make sure his work is available to the public, even available ‘eventually’ is an example of the true meaning of a SIN.” This comment came from a man who, although he’s not religious, is honest about what he thinks is right and what is wrong.
Lately, I’ve thought a great deal about what this man said to me regarding sin; and I’ve concluded that the truest sin I commit by not writing a word or two now and then is one that I commit against myself.
What I wrote in an earlier post about my relationship to writers critique groups was indeed honest. I do not benefit from the comments of other scribes as I compose a work-in-progress. Just as I should reserve the showing of a story until a time when I think it is ready to be read by other people, I should not bring a few raw manuscript pages to a meeting of writers’ minds. I am most likely an exception to the rule where this issue is concerned.
And what I write is not publishable. I am a word twister. I own precious little sense of plot as I plod my way from one image to another.
A couple of days ago, I enjoyed a brief conversation with a local friend and fellow writer. She belongs to the same writers organization hereabout as I belong. She, as I told her, is a brilliant storyteller with a formidable and lovely grasp of language. When I told my friend that I cannot write a publishable tale, she asked me, “How do you know?” “Because I’ve been writing for a long time, for many many years,” I said.
I was not then feeling sorry for myself. I told my friend the truth. Yet, as I drove my blue pickup truck through foggy air and along potholed avenues on my way home from her house, I wanted to find the missing piece to my puzzle. Why can’t I write an article that could be published, for instance, in one of the local newspapers? Other writers I know succeed with this task; and I know that I own the technical skill to match their efforts? So what stops me then?
Perhaps my preference for gray, misty skies, for the comfortable blanket feeling the clouds afford me, insisted that I answer that question and thus unlock the closed door in front of me.
Truth is that I don’t want to write the type of article that our local newspapers publish. I don’t like writing foreshortened tales of 789 words or fewer. More to the point is the fact that what I want most to write — a short story or a novel that grips me as well as many I have read — is beyond my grasp.
Some people consider me a writing snob, one who reads only so-called literary works, the classics old and modern, Dostoevsky, Michel de Montaigne, Updike and The Bard. This is not true. These days, for instance, I’m in the middle of Robert R. McCammon’s novel, Boy’s Life. In this book McCammon breaks a cardinal rule, or maybe two such rules. He wrote the story from a first-person point of view (many writers and editors will tell you that’s a “no no”). Furthermore, McCammon admits to telling the reader of events and sensations that the narrator could not possibly have experienced. Example: The boy, Cory, watches his father jump into a deep lake in an attempt to save a drowning man, and the narrator tells us what the father sees and feels as he’s diving into the water.
And guess what? That broken rule, although as a writer I must notice it, does nothing to diminish my enjoyment of the book. And guess what again? McCammon’s novel continues to be a well-praised bestseller.
And guess what a third time? Yes, I enjoy and admire the works of Dostoyevsky, Montaigne, Updike and The Bard.
And if you’re not tired of guessing what, please hear me when I say that if I could write a story as well as any of these authors, I still might never be able to publish it.
By the way, my friend, thank you for encouraging me to open that locked door.