Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lighthouses of the Writerly Type

The Writer's Almanac entry for today talks about 3 writers who have been influential for today's writers, whether we know it or not.  I can't resist commenting on this confluence.

Paul Theroux was born today in 1941.  I will confess to not having read his books, and yet I routinely daydream about selling everything I own and heading off to have great adventures, whether on foot, in an RV, or by sailboat.  Theroux is one of those writers who actually did that, and thus, leaves people like me thirsty for our own adventures.

He has this advice for writers:  ""Leave home. Because if you stay home people will ask you questions that you can't answer. They say, "What are you going to write? Where will you publish it? Who's going to pay you? How will you make a living?" If you leave home, no one asks you questions like that."

Oh, that's such dangerous advice for weeks at work that are particularly exhausting.  Yes, it's that week that comes up periodically because I am so bad at e-mail management.  The e-mail system finally threatens to cut me off unless I deal with my old mail, and so, I spend hours sifting through e-mails, wondering if I'll ever need them again, refiling them.  Sometimes, I'm struck by how much I've been able to accomplish through the days documented by those e-mails.  But more often, I'm dumbfounded at what takes up most of my time, the minutiae that will never matter.  Sigh.
Today is also the birthday of William Hazlitt (1778), whom most of us have never heard of.  Yet, in many ways, we can trace blogging right back to him.  He was one of those British Romantics who revolutionized the way we write essays.  He wrote in the first person, in a more rambling and discursive way.  Traditional writers were quite aghast at these developments, using language similar to what we hear about bloggers and other self-published writers today to criticize the nerve of these writers who think that the whole world should be interested in what they have to say.
Today is also the birthday of Anne Lamott, who wrote Bird by Bird, a book that may be one of the more widely used creative writing books of our day.  I pulled my much underlined copy off the shelf and was struck by how most (all?) of it is still very solid, very good, even almost 20 years after it was published.
Her book, and so many like them, inspired me to want to be a writer.  I was horrified a few years later when she started publishing her thoughts on faith.  Chalk that up to my snobbishness, to my fear, to my inner 19 year old who thinks she knows so much but she really doesn't.  Lamott's honest reflections on what it means to be a Christian really helped change me and shape me into the person I am today.  For more on Lamott as a theological writer, along with some great quotes, go to my post that I wrote today on my theology blog.
I have her latest book, Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son, and I'll likely read it in the next few weeks.  I don't expect to like it as much as I like Bird by Bird, but I'll try to have an open mind.
In flipping through Bird by Bird again this morning, I was struck by the last chapter, where she offers consolation for those of us who aren't making the kind of publication process we might like.  She reminds us that even though we may not be making lots of money, or any, on our writing, that our writing still has all sorts of value.  Her book rests on this assertion, that the most important thing we can do as a writer is to believe in ourselves and keep showing up to write.  She says, "Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining" (Bird by Bird page 236).
Her students ask again and again why writing matters, and she finishes her book by answering:  "Because of the spirit . . . of the heart.Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation.  They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life:  they feed the soul. . . . It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea.  You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship" (Bird by Bird page 237).

1 comment:

Hannah Stephenson said...

True wisdom from Lamott there, as usual.

Happy birthday to those muses!