Write The Book You Want To Read
This afternoon I saw a little plate at a store that said, ‘Write the book you want to read”. I picked it up and knew I was going to buy it, not for a writer-friend, but for myself. That simple act crossed a line, a line that had said, “You aren’t really a writer, you just like to write.” It had actually happened the day before, the crossing of the line. I was talking to our younger son and he had suggested I change my website to one that was mostly blog posts. He mentioned offhandedly that lots of writers use that sort of website as a resume. They post their work and editors can look at it.
“Lots of writers”. Did he mean me? I asked him and he said, “Sure, you’re a writer.” And I guess I am. I write all the time. Sometimes I think it’s how I process new or confusing information. It also makes me think more deeply about passing emotions, events or concepts. But I had never allowed myself to say those words. Maybe it’s because the books I read are ones I never think I could have written. Books full of inspiration and wisdom and challenge. Books that make me a better writer, and possibly a better person, for having read them. And yet they are a highly eclectic group of books there on my bedside table and stacked by the couch. They range from metaphysics to children’s lit, from Viktor Frankl to Tony Wagner. By reading authors who have done their best to say what they mean they enable me to try and do the same.
My favorite form of writing is the essay. I love where the genre came from – a Frenchman who just wanted to try some different ways of writing, to “essaie.” I have been writing essays for many years, ever since I started traveling on my own to Europe in the summers to teach in Paris. I found I had the space, and the solitude, to write – and writing is a solitary pursuit. I discovered that it was deeply satisfying to spend all day in the rush of a big city and then go home to my little hotel room and process all the feelings and thoughts that had swirled around me during the day. It settled me and made me feel that I could think more clearly.
Every writing teacher who reads this will jump up and shout, “Yes!! You see, that’s what I’ve been saying all along.” And they would be right. Writing helps us think by forcing us to put into words what seems so intangible, so ethereal, but it’s not. Not really. It does take doing it, sitting down and writing but the pay off is that you will never lose that feeling, that question, that realization. Ever. Because, whatever it was, you will be able to go back and read that essay and remember, with all your being, what that day was like, what that moment meant to you. And that is a gift, to yourself and, hopefully, to others.
So, in this new age of text messages and IMs and making all of our thought patterns fit into the speed of light I maintain that sitting down and getting out your laptop, or your pad and pencil, will ultimately be more satisfying than anything else you might do.