By Catherine Hedge
Leonard Bishop told us that he loved to step into an elevator and ask whoever else rode with him, “So, how’s the book coming?” He’d get answers like, “Well, I haven’t gotten back to it lately.” Or, “Not bad. I’m just doing some more research first.” No one ever said, “What?? I’m not writing a book and I NEVER intend to!”
And isn’t that just how it should be? Every one of us has a unique life, the only one that will EVER be. Why shouldn’t we write down those moments of our mayfly existence? Humans are storytellers and always have been, even before they painted their hunting expeditions on cave walls. We’ve passed on our history, knowledge, and imagination in many ways. We’ve danced, sketched, told and remembered through song and poem, by scratches on a bone, even wedges impressed in clay. Every time, that story was breathed to life by an individual believing he or she had something important to say.
We still do. All of us. Unfortunately, our modern culture has convinced us that some people’s stories are more important than others. It’s only worthwhile if someone pays you to do it. (Do we judge singing that way?) Also, if you’re not an expert, you shouldn’t even try in case you do it WRONG!
What a frightening word.
I taught English for 32 years. I had colleagues who would tell me, “I can’t have my students write yet. Not until they can spell correctly and create a perfect sentence.” (I still can’t do that!) Their students spent years in grammar books, copying sentences and underlining predicates. Fortunately, the education community, including those same teachers, has seen the power of letting students write and express themselves. The belief that children, too, have ideas worth sharing elevates their work from drudgery to dreams.
Last week, I faced a group of twenty 2nd through 5th graders, aged 7 through11. These children voluntarily gave up their lunch recess so they could talk about writing. Their teacher was putting together an anthology of their works to be bound and placed on the library shelves. I asked the students to stand if they had ever written a piece they wanted to share with the whole world. Some jumped out of their chairs, some deliberated and stood slowly, but every one of them answered, “Yes!”
They gleefully chanted along with me, “When I write, I have the Ultimate Power! Because, there is no one all history who can write my story, except for me. And If I don’t do it, it will never exist! “
I lovingly envied their confidence and joy!
I can tell you all the reasons I stopped writing for 15 years…a writing teacher who told me I had no talent, the wall between the start and finish that seemed insurmountable, the fear that it was conceit to think I could ever “Be as good as Steinbeck.” I truly believed that a GOOD writer would start on the first page of a book and write straight through “The End” on the last page.
One of the best moments of my life was when I met the gregarious, masterful Leonard Bishop, who shattered my image of a “real writer.” He’d tell us, “Rules? There are no rules! Just keep it interesting and dramatic!” or, “Why do you think you have to write like Steinbeck? He already did it. Now find what you have to say.”
Leonard advised us to read good books and steal…not the idea, but the strategy the author used to hold us to the page. A book wasn’t written in neat, orderly piles of manuscript, but by taking detours and risks. Writing is messy. Writing is hard. But we could do it, if we really wanted to. So could anyone. “Every book that has ever been written was written line by line, using certain techniques. We can learn those techniques to become better writers ourselves.”
So, whether you’re writing journals for your cedar chest, poems for your sweetheart, a cooking blog, or your own how-to guide on model trains, go for it! There really is nothing to stop you…except you.
Thank you, Mr. B, for goading us on…“Remember, the World doesn’t care whether or not you finish. It’s just another book. No, the World won’t know the difference. But you will.”