Tuesday, June 2

You All Never Tell Me Anything


"Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar."

Yesterday, I said I was not well read, which may come as a surprise to people who know me (or maybe not). Like my former mother-in-law, who said, when she found out that I had not read Jane Austen--or some such thing--"but you seem so smart!". Yeah, I fool people like that.

So my question for today (when I can get over my humiliation) is: Why didn't I get the memo?

I know for a fact that a lot of you who read this (if I can be so bold as to use that phrase "a lot") are writers in one form or another. So I'm sure at some point, you have run across that little primer of writing, namely The Elements of Style. You know you did. Some of you even got all casual-like and familiar and started to refer to it the way you talk to your basketball buddies. You know, by last name. "Throw it to Peterson!" It's just like that. "You got a copy of Strunk and White around here somewhere?" You know you said it. And if you didn't, you knew what book to grab when someone else said it.

But. But. BUT.

DID YOU KNOW THAT IT WAS WRITTEN BY THE GUY WHO WROTE CHARLOTTE'S WEB AND STUART LITTLE???

I didn't know that. I'm crawling under a rock now.

Did you know? Why didn't you tell me?

This is so not what I meant when I said I was not well read. I'm starting to read tonight. I have to catch up. After chorus. And dishes. And laundry. Okay. Tomorrow, then.

And this all came up because of a simple quote on a magazine I received that caught my eye and spoke directly to my conundrum of a life. It's one of those things where you think "Wow, I could have written that" because it's sounds so much like you and your life, but then you find out it's an author that you really admire, and then you decide that maybe you're fooling yourself that you could write that, but it rings true nonetheless. Ya know?

Here it is:

"If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. That makes it hard to plan the day."

E.B. White. Of course. And in an instant, I realized I know so little about him, other than Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little (yes, the books, not the movies--most definitely one of those "the book was better" moments). I am a big fan of children's books. And what is there not to love about a person who can turn a spider into a poet and a mouse into an adventurer?

So I did what I always do. I researched. That's when I saw it, and was appropriately dumbfounded.

Yes, I know this is probably not as shocking news, nor as important news, to you as it is to me. It's not really all that important to me either. I mean, who cares? But sort of in the spirit of yesterday's writing, every once in a while I get hit hard over the head with something I don't know that it seems like I should know, and it just throws me for a loop. And besides, I like things like this that really knock me off balance. Keeps me on my toes.

Most importantly, I like things like this because they lead me to unexpected places, places that I had no idea I was going or even wanted to go when I woke up this morning. If this blogging thing has been about anything for me, it has been about paying attention. About noticing things that happen, about noticing what I notice, about noticing what I am moved to write about, and what just slips through like incidental slop. Today, I stumbled on to E.B. White. And in the end, it wasn't about children's books or writing manuals or surprises. It was about writing. Here's what my friend Elwyn (or Andy, as he was apparently called) had to say about writing. It's just what I needed today, and if it had to be through the back door, so be it.

"There is no trick to it. If you like to write and want to write, you write, no matter where you are or what else you are doing or whether anyone pays any heed. I must have written half a million words (mostly in my journal) before I had anything published, save for a couple of short items in St. Nicholas. If you want to write about feelings, about the end of summer, about growing, write about it. A great deal of writing is not "plotted"--most of my essays have no plot structure, they are a ramble in the woods, or a ramble in the basement of my mind. You ask, "Who cares?" Everybody cares. You say, "It's been written before." Everything has been written before."

The basement of my mind.

Damn good blogging advice.

Thanks, Andy.

4 comments:

Anna said...

Well, I only learned about EB White when I attended a writer's workshop two weekends ago that I didn't really enjoy (Ferron has spoiled me in that sense)...I, too, thought he only wrote children's books.

I love the last quote. It took me a long time to declare myself a writer because I figured that to be a writer meant that you needed to be published, somewhere, and recognized for what you do beyond your own sphere of existence. I don't need that validation anymore.

Thanks for sharing.

Kelly (conversemomma) said...

Amazing blogging advice. It took me a long to actually live that for myself, but...I think now that I do. I hope so, at least.

Audrey said...

I didn't know it until you told me! I shall ask your former mother-in-law if she knew it. Bet she doesn't.

Robin said...

Yeah, Anna. I've never done so well in a writing workshop after writing with Ferron. Oh well, must mean another trip to Michigan!