26 March, 2009

Living to Write

A gray morning like this one, in Philly anyway, is a blessing for most writers. The world passes us by almost every day and when the weather is good, that world seems to pick up speed while we sit and write in our various, often gloomy, corners. Bad weather makes me feel productive as I write; not only is the world slow outside my window, those who are at work behind teak desks and at chalk boards are probably not performing at their peak either. That combination makes my world quieter, allowing the muse to linger.

The writer’s life, for most of us, is not quite full of glamorous brilliance as portrayed by actors-playing-writers in movies. If refulgence there be, it is usually cast by the light of our computer screens rather than any flashes of wit or insouciant prose spilling from our fingertips. The people mentioned in Garrison Keelor’s artful piece in Salon.com yesterday, on the “real” American dream, was therefore doubly amusing. Not simply because it is true: everybody wants to “be a writer,” but because it is a truism. The old Ben Franklin quote, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about,” drives us all, postmen and hairdressers alike. And every aspiring writer, myself included, was once on the other side of the divide that separates the blessed from the still aspiring. The one thing that distinguishes one type of person from the other (and these people live in the intersection of a Venn diagram which holds some of both the blessed and the aspiring), is not simply the desire to write but the need to write. For this, the weather – temporal, ecclesiastical, physical, emotional – is always conducive for creating with words.

The more pertinent quote, then, comes from Dan Torday, who writes, in his reflection on Cheever for The Kenyon Review:

Maybe the hidden lesson of Cowley’s (Cheever’s editor at The New Republic) advice to write four short pieces in four days was the other side of that coin: Don’t just write short, but write often.

If that means finding a corner in your local library, even if it is not one, like the New York Public Library, which sets aside space for writers with book contracts to work in a salubrious, bookish environment, as reported in an article in The Village Voice recently, then that is where you should be heading. Or, as stated in stark black, sans-sarif lettering on a bright yellow postcard sent out by the Gotham Writers Workshop, the one I have pinned above my desk: Don’t Forget To Write.

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The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.


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