Roger Marolt: Writing with no end in sight — An American Mirage
The last thing I needed was a reading assignment; the kind where someone in authority hands you a 300 page book and says, “You need to finish by Tuesday.” But, that’s what I got on Sunday afternoon, barely after the lawn mower had been tucked away. The book was “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones. The authority was by my wife. And the reason was by way of the sometimes annual Community Read. The book was free, brought to us by Aspen Words, but the tickets to the interview with the author were $25 apiece. The Words giveth, and The Words taketh away. … Actually a brilliant fundraiser.
I was good under pressure. Although I have never been mistaken for a fast reader, I surprised myself. By the time we arrived to hear the author speak Tuesday evening, I knew everything but the ending. She did not give it away; only that she thought about how to wrap it up for months and then wrote it in about a week and a half. It was a nice build-up.
Ms. Jones was a pleasure to listen to. If you have read the book, you know she is brilliant. What the book doesn’t hint at, however, is what a sense of humor she possesses. The seriousness of the subject matter left no place to display that in the story, but the Belly Up night club stage did. The interview was delightful, which is a word I don’t use liberally, if I have ever used it at all.
I like to listen to successful authors talk about their work and careers. It is a fascinating thing to hear about someone making a living out of a thing that is so easy to convince ourselves that we, too, with a few breaks, burning desire, and a lot of hard work, could be doing. And I have this fascination because, not even deep down, I understand that this is virtually impossible. Absolutely nobody knows what must come together to turn this dream into reality, not even those who have done it. If there was anything close to a surefire formula, there would be nothing but cute sidewalk cafes in the world, all of them full all the time with pondering people oblivious to the time of day.
Tayari Jones offered better advice to aspiring authors than to set their sights on the big advance. She explained that what gives her joy in writing is to begin writing not knowing where the story will go. She reminded us that, if we knew how a story was going to end from the first page, that is not a story we would want to read and, just the same, not one she wants to write.
I have written a lot. Between my columns, a novel, compilations, short stories, personal reflections and just farting around on the dim side of a keyboard below the spacebar, I have published over a million words and clogged a few hard drives with many more, and this idea to just start writing not knowing were I am going with it has never crossed my mind. Some of the best real adventures I have been on unfolded like this, yet I have never written a beginning without having at least a glimpse of the ending on the horizon.
Of course I am going to try this. I am not convinced it will make me a better writer, but that is not the point. I want to have an out-of-keyboard experience, where I am floating above my laptop with a bright blue screen shining at the end of a long kaleidoscopic tunnel, the words unraveling on it which I cannot read, but feel their weight and beauty more as I draw closer. My fingers move, but I don’t know what they are saying. I want to travel down that tunnel with joy, anticipating what is coming, unleashed from the voice of reason and logic temporarily anesthetized by a mystic cough drop mysteriously mixed in with the M&Ms in the candy dish on my desktop. I feel this transcendent moment leading to a state of bliss in this craft.
And, if suddenly I find myself wide awake back at my desk forming a mental outline writing my weekly column, trying to fit everything into a box 750 words square, at least I will know that there is more in the writing universe. That should be enough to get me through the next deadline.
Roger Marolt understands that not knowing where you are going makes it impossible to take short cuts. Email at email@example.com.
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