When asked, many of the manly American men writers of their day used to claim that writing is easy. You just open a vein.
(Versions of the quote come from sportswriter Red Smith, sportswriter and novelist Paul Gallico, wordy novelist Thomas Wolfe, and his High-T Manliness Himself –– Ernest Hemingway. Thanks Garson O'Toole for this blog all about it.)
Um, okay, boys. Not for nothing, but bleeding is a lot easier.
Which opens the door to the real the question: why write at all. Why not just not write? Get the other things on my list done. Retire or whatnot.
I would, actually, if I could.
So far I have failed to give it up. I've alluded to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner a time or two; it's that poem with the old guy pestering people at a wedding, insisting that he tell them HIS story –– that's a pretty good illustration of what goes on over here.
And yet, despite characters shouting and raising their hands frantically in the back of my skull-duggery room and a good playlist cued up, I am dipping into Reynold Price's wonderful Learning a Trade: A Craftsman's Notebooks 1955-1997. It's an annotated journal that gives me hope: in it, Price writes about his process. He dithers and wonders about his characters' motivations and choices. He revisits and re-considers his own moral position based on the things his characters do –– or what they must do, whether he wants them to do or not.
Price was a young man at start of these notebooks studying and writing in Oxford and then back in North Carolina, before he wrote A Long and Happy Life, his first novel. By the end, he's had a has successful career, including Kate Vaiden, and a dozen other novels, as well as screenplays and short stories, books with a biblical bent, and volumes of memoir.
Here's a sample from page 77 of Learning a Trade.
20 January 1957 LONDON
But look, isn't this story in danger of ending with a kind of cheat, that is with no resolution? What is the end going to imply?: simply that she leaves home for Norfolk or wherever? Maybe Wesley had better make some kind of gesture, however small.
And page 129:
27 August 1960, DURHAM
Rosacoke has told Wesley her pregnancy. His only reaction has been silence –– then question: has she known anyone else? Then simply telling her to come on, they must practice. Her own feeling through the revelation is chiefly numbness, tiredness –– though Wesley notices on her face the same look that was there on the November night (which was described then as hate).
I haven't read the story in question, and may never do so. Can't say I am want to know about Wesley and Rosacoke. What's interesting –– and heartening –– is that Price clearly spent a good portion of his waking life playing with his paper dolls, too, imagining an inner life for these imaginary friends, worrying about their actions and what it all means.
Misery is not the only thing that loves company.
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