Thursday, July 06, 2006


I'm sitting outside, my laptop splotched with shadows and pockets of light from the canopy of the sweet gum tree. A citronella candle flickers beside me, but I have been bit by four mosquitoes so far this morning.

Archie and Dixie dash about the yard, honing their gladiatorial skills in case the need for actual combat arises. They return to the patio, clustering near my ankles—but then zoom into the yard.

But in the summer humidity, they tire quickly.

Over the long weekend, Michelle's family came to visit and I had a few hours worth of copyediting to dull my senses. With the frenzy of cleaning before their arrival, the traditional grilling of hotdogs and hamburgers, a few hundred tosses of the football to my nephews with a little help from my niece, a few hours helping my father-in-law find the oil filter on my latish-model subcompact sedan (above the axle, a few inches from the front-right wheel basin), a family game of Trivia Pursuit, a day's worth of freelancing work, and a near complete immersion in a hand-held video game system, writing temporarily garnered far less attention than it normally warrants. I was, I suppose, on a vacation of sorts.

Even with a lifestyle like mine, which for the most part is devoted to the craft of writing and the faith that my fiction (and maybe a little poetry) might sell well enough to keep me out of the corporate job market for good, finding the verve to write each day is difficult. If you add a fulltime job, a heated relationship, or a dash of devoted television watching to the mix, it's easy to imagine those dreams of penning the next great American novel or a slim volume of stunning poems simply fading away like those hormone-drenched visions of a white-picket fence life with your first boyfriend or girlfriend.

More, writing, unlike any other art, uses the raw materials of syntax that virtually anyone—even a child—understands. So, why should we be surprised if it sometimes seems as though everyone thinks they can write? Of course, as with basic mathematics, not everyone has the same facility for manipulating phrases or conjuring metaphors. Nevertheless, as a writer, talent should be the least of your concerns. Myriad talented poets never publish a single poem. Whole galaxies of writers brimming with a remarkable facility to craft a sentence never publish a single story. The writers who succeed, it seems to me, are those who can sustain themselves for years on something like faith. They are the writers who practice their devotion daily; who cast out the doubts of rejection and the false confidences of praise in favor of a few stolen moments cloistered from the world, muttering finely honed phrases; who read their own stories again and again, with their red pens poised over the body of the work, just as Abraham stood above Isaac, ready to sacrifice his son for the greater good.

Although you'll find countless discussions and explorations of religion throughout world literature—from John Donne to William Blake to Gerard Manley Hopkins, I do not mean to suggest that writing must explore that aspect of the human experience to be successful. Instead, I only want to suggest that—to succeed—a writer must have a kind of faith in himself that resembles religious devotion. You must believe, against any possible evidence, that you will succeed. More, you must find a way to act upon that faith in yourself, integrating it into the very fibers of your life, the rhythms of your day.

As for myself, at this moment, I believe.


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