1,000 Words on Writing

On Saturday night, my laptop crashed. Even in my days of not caring so much about what happened to my computer, this had never happened to me. It happened during a seemingly innocuous sending of a picture to my sister-in-law, a photograph of her and her sisters, including my wife. It is a particularly nice picture that I thought she might enjoy as a background photograph on her own computer, maybe to print out and frame, or maybe to delete without even opening. Whatever.

It’s tough to remain calm when a computer crashes, especially as a writer because, well, it would have been catastrophic for me. On the hypothetical list of “writer’s who are good at backing up important documents,” I’m at the bottom. All of my files – published, unpublished, finished, unfinished – 100’s of thousands of words were somewhere in the abyss. We got about a foot of snow on Saturday into Sunday, so I was even unable to bring it to the Apple store that day. I had to wait in some sort of a writer’s purgatory, not knowing which way the situation would go.

In the end, yes, it was a hard drive crash. They were able to temporarily recover my files for long enough for me to purchase an external hard drive to backup everything that I needed: writing, photographs, music. It wasn’t a $200 I wanted to spend on repairing my computer, but it was far better than losing everything and having to buy a new computer.

With that being explained, I made the joke that I “needed a vacation” anyway. My computer would be in the mechanic’s shop, getting repaired and recovering to be a better machine. However, I found myself to be at some level of loss. I didn’t know how long I was going to be without my computer and I didn’t know what I would actually do besides sit on the couch reading or watching shows about Alaska on Netflix. There hasn’t been a day that had gone by in as long as I can remember that I didn’t write anything, even if it were a simple response to an e-mail or a note in my “random thoughts” file.

These things are foolish, but I liked the slinky.

These things are foolish, but I liked the slinky.

Like most writers, I’ve tried to quantify and qualify the effect of writing on my life. I’ve written about influences and style; I’ve written about why I write and what I write about, but I’ve never truly been happy with these explanations or writing in their totality. They seemed banal, like trying to tell someone why you love your wife, those short “she makes me a better person” platitudes people put into their vows.

To write is a very personal act that allows other persons to take someone else’s story and make it their own. We have books that we read, writers we adore and we take their words and give them our own meaning. Sometimes a shark is just a shark, as Hemingway noted. An innocent observation to one person is a profound epiphany to another. Some people write to figure out how they feel about a topic; Others write to find out why they feel the way they do. A personal act.

This blog has become, at times, a place for me to write as a warm-up drill. I find it soothing to get into my daily bout with the pages of a novel or longer journalistic work by first finding myself tell a story about me on the screen. Often I begin to write without knowing where I’ll end up and the art of “not knowing” is what drives me as a writer. In any work, I often have no idea where the story will end. We’re told to have an ending already written. When I worked in sports journalism, this was easy. The game was over, tell the story. It’s much more exciting when we don’t know how it’s going to end. It can be frustrating in the opposite when we don’t know how to start. But we always do somehow.

There are ways I could have written without my computer. I have pens and pencils and blank sheets of paper. I have notebooks with empty pages that are yearning to be filled. There was some of that, but not much. We write where we’re most comfortable, on the device on which we feel the most at home. I write at a desk upstairs at my house, my dog breathing loudly in one of the adjacent rooms. And, I think, this is my point here. When I was without a laptop, when I was had no access at all to my files, my words, I felt lost. My hands didn’t know what to do, my brain began to conjure up images I couldn’t transfer to pages. It was like the stomach growling for food that wasn’t coming soon. My characters, my stories were stuck, stagnated somewhere on an inaccessible page.

This may sound corny. I’m aware of this. I do not know where my stories will go. I do not know if they will ever be good enough for other people to want to read them. But they are on a journey. They are on a journey of not knowing. Essentially, we’re on the same trip together. Neither of us know where we’re going, but we’re going there together.

I had a link to include from The Atlantic, which was fodder for this post. It was a year in advice from writers like Stephen King, Jonathan Franzen, Paul Harding, all terrific, successful writers. They have their own feelings about writing, their own advice to give aspiring novelists. I think it’s worth checking out. Here it is.

But, more importantly, I think, is to evaluate our own lives in this way. What advice would you give to others about being a good writer or accountant? About being a good dad or mom? And how does this advice inform our own living? How do our feelings on the thing in our lives that mean the most to us inform the way we go through our lives?

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