Charlie's Blog: The Return to Writing


The Return to Writing

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

Cormac McCarthy uses an Olivetti typewriter. The one he uses reminds me of the Smith-Corona I got from my aunt who was a secretary. That typewriter was what I used to write my first stories as a kid. They weren't very good, but I took to writing at an early age. Then, I graduated to a Radio Shack computer that got me through college. I did a lot of writing on that thing. And my hard copies were all done on an old school dot matrix printer. After that computer, I got a Compaq laptop and got on the internet. I literally wore the keys out on that thing. My current keyboard has the same wear especially on the S and the A keys. That wear is what moved me to start using desktop machines. I wear out the keyboards, and I like to replace them without replacing the entire machine. I am on my third desktop machine. I've lost count on the keyboards.

I am a writer. I'm not sure what makes a person a writer except that he writes. He may or may not find publication or remuneration. But the act of putting words on a piece of paper or a screen is what make you a writer. That's it. My wife is now a writer as she blogs about the practical things. The thing she has discovered is that writing is a lot of work without much reward. I've told her this for years, but she knows it now.

I wish popularity had something to do with craftsmanship and skill. But it doesn't. Stephen King writes some of the worst crap to ever be published. But those crap books will sell. Other crap books endorsed by Oprah Winfrey will also sell. But they are crap.

quit writing, but it did not last for a day. This is because of the thoughtful e-letter this reader sent to me:
I am a stranger but thank you for your writing over the years. I am sad to see it go but your priorities are correct. Wife and home over hobbies. 
I am a Christian and originally started reading you when you were an atheist in order to understand the adversary well and play devil’s advocate. I rejoiced when you embraced the truth. Your writings since have been thoughtful and convicting, especially the blue collar theme. I am part of white collar corporate America and struggle to resist the corrupting influence. 
I could feel the guilt ray burning on that one. It reminded me of the Spider-Man Quits storyline from the comics and the Spider-Man 2 movie. I remember in the movie that Peter Parker is having a hard time trying to balance being a student, photographer, boyfriend, and on and on with being a web slinging superhero out to save the world. Spidey doesn't get paid to be Spider-Man. The guy works for free. That's pretty noble of him except it is making the rest of his life a wreck. Sometimes, a guy just wants a quiet life.

This same storyline pops up with other superheroes. Superman let it all go in Superman 2. Batman hung up the cape at the end of The Dark Knight. But you know they will go back to being superheroes. The world needs them, and they can't stop themselves from serving that world even if it comes at a heavy personal cost.

Is a writer a superhero? That is a huge stretch. I have to laugh at the notion. I don't think the world will be saved through what I write. The real heroes in this world are the unsung ones who pull us from burning buildings, save us from heart attacks, defend our country, or just make dinner for their families night after night without complaint. But I can say that my life has been changed by the writings of others. I don't know if I am worthy enough to put my writings on the same shelf as theirs. But writing does have the power to change things and people.

I don't know why I write. I think I wanted money and fame at the beginning. I wanted to be like Tom Clancy or Stephen King. Then, I started to want to be more like Sebastian Junger and Paul Theroux. Now, I admire Chesterton, Tolkien, and Lewis. Somewhere, I decided that writing well mattered more than writing for fame or money.

I write because it makes me a better person. Most writers are not better people as they drink their way through producing depressing novels. There is nothing inherent in writing that makes you a better person. Plenty of bad human beings have written books. But writing these blog posts helps to clarify my thinking. If I didn't write, I simply would not think.

I publish for the sake of others. It is much easier to scratch my thoughts in a journal for my own benefit. But publishing is for others to read. The internet has made that possible. I can publish so that others can read. If it benefits others, then it is worth doing. My wife is discovering this now as people express appreciation for her practical advice.

There are frustrations with writing. The first is the simple fact that people don't read. They will read a Tweet or a meme on Facebook. They may even sit through a YouTube video if it is short. But a blog post is essentially an essay requiring brainpower and attention span beyond that of the average bear.

The second frustration is the time requirement. If you think reading these posts takes a long time, imagine writing them. I don't have exact numbers, but these posts take about two hours to write. I could write short blurby stuff like other bloggers, but this makes them little different from someone with a Facebook or Twitter account. This is why I identify more as a writer than as a blogger.

The time thing is the biggest frustration. It requires hard work and sacrifice. There are other and better things to do for your own sake. But you make the sacrifice, and you are left wondering if it is worth it.

Writing is worth it. I can resolve the time issue thing. It is actually a chapter in the book I am writing. Somehow, you have to fit all the things you need to do and want to do into a 24-hour day. I just have to figure this out somehow. It would be nice to not be burdened by a day job, but the only writers I know who managed this tend to be very bad.

I will keep writing this blog.