June 2017 . . . .

“Inspiration is for Amateurs”

So says Stephen King, the workhorse model of American letters. I am not ashamed to admit that if I could have anyone’s — any author’s — ethic, it would be his. I don’t need to interview him to know this, either. “Get up and plow the field,” his output clearly states. If you want to be a writer, write. You don’t have to like his style, his genre, the books themselves. I don’t think I would want to delve into the darkness he has plumbed. But you can’t deny that if you write a lot, and read a lot, and have a secure connection in your synapses between what you read and what you write, something will come of it. And, inevitably, your work will get better as you proceed.

Some time ago I was in a writing group — I’ve told you about the fellow who achieved great first paragraphs and received all of the recognition he required of writing from the writing group’s gushing praise for his ideas and initial forays. When we broke up, about seven years ago, there were only two of us still in the game, still writing. Pushing the big lumpy rock up the hill no matter how many times it uses gravity and meanness to roll over us and return to the bottom of that hill. She — my writing group cohort — is the epitome of getting the job done. She produces ideas, outlines, research files, drafts, and final product with the regularity of a . . . no, that’s not fair. She’s the person that the writing simile should be designed around. And me. I sit every day at the keyboard and type. This and that. On good days and bad.

An editor friend recently received a scathing response from a customer for whom he was providing paid and skilled assistance. You’ve badmouthed my characters! the note stated. How dare you? Please go F#$K yourself. My friend asked me if all writers are similarly high-strung. Yes, I replied, gulping. But we’re not all quite so bat-shit crazy.

My suspicion is — based on no medical evidence whatsoever and intending no coincidental disrespect — that there is a behavioral spectrum for writers. On one end are the working writers who lay down sentences like bricklayers’ mortar walls — square, level and practical. I know writers like this and I read their work and I do not attribute the word “art” to their articles and I expect that they do not care what I attribute to their work or not. Did they do the job assigned? Did they get paid? Done and done.

Moving along the spectrum there are the folks who write, get published, like the work they’ve done, are aware that it isn’t literature, but harbor the wish that it was. That is, they wish they could produce better sentences. They keep this feeling a secret, and it is a part of their personality — a writer’s mood, if you will. They talk about writing over coffee or cocktails and they are not shy about the work they’ve produced, but don’t brag, either. A little further on are the working writers who are certain that they have that piece of literature in their desk drawer (or up in the cloud, to modernize the image), but it isn’t quite done, not ready, or has been bounced and they’re a tad worried it won’t see the light of day without . . . self-publishing. Yikes!

Along the line are the self-publishers who happily market their wares, the self-publishers who mope, the scribes who don’t much care about publishing at all but write for the catharsis or fun or to clear their heads, the happy people who only write when they’re in the mood, and those others who are never in the mood, but are patiently waiting to become moody. And on the far end of the spectrum are those who believe that they should only put pen to paper when they are divinely or otherwise inspired.

And, well, somewhere on this crooked line is my friend’s disgruntled customer, the angry scribbler. Do I understand taking things personally? You betcha. Not so recently, but there was a time. Don’t make fun of my poetry. No, I’m not open to advice or correction. Yes, I meant to say that. So I want to make it clear that in no way am I looking . . . sideways at any of the personalities of which I speak. Just as it takes a village to . . . make a village, it requires a special kind of tool to be a writer and write. Sometimes that tool comes in a really colorful case. Sometimes the writer finds it difficult to take it out and use it.

We are hampered and crippled and haunted and motivated, each according to our turn. Some days are better than others, of course. My office is in the dining room of our house. Not exactly a quiet corner of my world, with a window out into the pastoral springtime to motivate my creative juices to flow. That it’s well lit and close to the coffee maker is about all I can say about it. At night, when everyone else is down for the duration, it’s a good spot for getting things done. So inspiration or hard work? The cuckoo clock ticks unobtrusively from one wall. My keyboard click-clacks in counterpoint, occasionally like Buddy Rich on the snare. And he would be the first one to tell you that you get to Carnegie Hall by taking the number 4 train and by having correct change for the machine.