Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Hey, out there

Hey, out there,

As usual, I am approximately six weeks behind in getting another blog posted. It’s a chronic dilemma, and one for which I offer no excuses, except life is what it is and there you have it.

My salutation—hey, out there—has presented itself to me twice all ready today, and it is only 1:08 in the afternoon. I thought it was significant enough to mention. The first was a rather pithy Facebook repost of the common (though, frequently amusing and even helpful) grammar lessons people are fond of. The author of that piece cautioned writers against using the term “hey, out there,” noting that it is unprofessional and puts distance between writer and reader. Out where, the author wants to know? Bring readers in, she cautions, don’t keep them “out there.”

But the next time I came across “hey, out there” as a salutation was while I happily read over the website of Pat Conroy, who, if you don’t know by now, is my favorite author. I do that from time to time to find inspiration, or to avoid my own writing.  I was comforted to find that Pat, like me, has not been altogether prompt about new blog posts of his own. Of course, he has been working on his 10th book, so that gives him a bit of an excuse. But the point I make here is that if “hey, out there” is good enough for Pat Conroy, it is certainly good enough for me.

I recently read an article in Psychology Today about writer’s block. Not surprisingly, it’s a form of perfectionism that cripples us with the threat of getting words down on paper that will never measure up to the way they are arranged in our heads. It’s a sad case of “A means Adequate, B means failure.”

I liken it to letting someone hold my newborn child. It’s a short list. Not just anyone gets to hold my baby. If you have a weird vibe, you look shifty, you are not a board certified pediatrician, or you don’t remind me in the slightest of Mother Teresa, you don’t get to hold my newborn.

So it is with my writing—especially my novel. For a while, only two people other than me were privy to the inner workings of my novel, and one of them had to listen to me read it aloud, lest I decide suddenly that I had changed my mind. This is an excellent way to practice perfectionism, but a terrible way to finish a novel. When that happens, the idea remains in my head, never risking the mess of words tumbling out onto blank pages, filling margins with tales and tragedies and salvation for characters I’ve come to know and love.

But slowly, gradually, I’ve widened the circle to include a few other trusted readers whose appearance on my short list is by invitation only. Some of the select few were randomly chosen; others were there from the first paragraph, which everyone knows is the hardest one to get on paper.

I’m trying to take the centuries-old advice from Phillip Sydney, whose Elizabethan sonnets are considered, after Shakespeare’s, to be the best sonnets of his age. In Astrophel and Stella, Sydney says,

“Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
"Fool!" said my muse to me, "look in thy heart, and write.” 

I’m guessing he spent a minute or two hesitating to share them, wondering if the damn Bard would cool his ink well long enough for someone else to get a sonnet or two out there.

“Hey, out there,” I’ll bet he said to his waiting public, “have a read.” But before he did that, he had to do the one thing that writers absolutely have to do to call ourselves writers.

He had to write.


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