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Guest Post – Ethel Rohan – What Does Writing Mean to You?

An excerpt from the epilogue to Noah Lukeman’s THE FIRST FIVE PAGES:

The answer, ultimately, to getting published is how much it means in your life. Does it take number-one priority? Some people give over their entire lives to writing. They give up their jobs; they write twelve hours a day; they apply for every grant, award, and fellowship out there; when they’re not writing, they’re reading literature, scrutinizing other writers’ techniques, reading books on writing. Thomas Mann wouldn’t even interrupt his writing to attend the funeral of his son, who had killed himself.

Genet was forced to write on toilet paper, as that was all he had during his many years in prison. When the guards found and destroyed his life’s work, he began again, recreating what he’d done from memory. Dostoyevsky spent many years in a prison camp in Siberia, where he wasn’t allowed to read anything but the Bible and was given no writing materials–just hard labor. But he continued to write when he got out, despite the fact that Russian law prohibited a former prisoner to be published. When the czar read Dostoyevsky’s House of the Dead–given to him by friends–he cried, lifted the ban and allowed the work to be published. Conrad, a Polish refugee, taught himself English while working on a ship, despite the fact that he didn’t speak a word of it until he was twenty years old. Through sheer devotion, he turned himself not only into a proficient writer but one of the great masters of the English language. Faulkner labored in factories and post offices while he wrote his books. He said the great thing about being published was that he was “no longer at the mercy of every bastard who had five cents for a stamp.

If these writers could overcome such obstacles, how can you give up after a few rejection slips?

Dis. Cuss.

15 thoughts on “Guest Post – Ethel Rohan – What Does Writing Mean to You?

  1. Great post, and great to see Ethel’s name up there.

    Writers are addicts, junkies of the worst order, and acceptances are the crack. Few can keep a somewhat orderly habit, if such a thing exists, getting high only a few times a year. But maybe it’s better to call these writers hobbyists, and not true dope fiends.

    A true dope fiend eats rejection for breakfast, then shakes it off and sharpens up his street skills to find the next score.

    The bitter taste of 10 misses goes away when you get that 1 big crack rock.

    The people who fold after a few rejections are the lucky ones.

  2. Jeez, to quote Laura Ellen Scott, “I had to check if I wrote that comment myself …”

    Hear hear.

    Hello, my name is Ethel, I am an addict. But I’m not checking out on life or love or people altogether. How else to nourish my soul, refill the ink in my veins?

    Here’s to our next hit, Mel. Bring it on …

  3. It’s nice to be reminded of these obstacles– I remember reading about Villon (at least I think it was him) and how he wanted to write but he couldn’t because the ink froze in his inkwell.

  4. There are always obstacles, and it’s all relative. It doesn’t seem to deter us, though. So much so I sometimes think our need to write is a disease. It certainly doesn’t seem voluntary.

  5. I think of the need to write and the need to be read as two different things…with a twisty and dark underground tunnel between the two.

    I’m also open to the idea that I might be kidding myself.

  6. yes, we’re all disgusting attention whores who need constant validation for our lame existence.

    show me one writer who can spend a year of their life writing something they think is amazing and then show me that writer burning it before another set of eyes gets to read it.

    maybe that writer exists. i don’t know.

  7. Raymond Carver has a great essay called “Fires,” in which he talks about influences on the writer’s life, and on his life in particular.  He tells the story of a time in Iowa City, when he was at a laundromat, trying to get his family’s clothes washed and dried before he had to pick up his two children from a birthday party.  His wife was at her job, waiting tables.  It was late, all the machines were in use, and he was getting frantic.  He was about to remove the clothes from a dryer that had just come to a stop, and put his load in, when a woman came over, put her hand inside, and decided the clothes weren’t dry enough.  She closed the door and put two more dimes in the machine.

    “In a daze I moved away…and went back to waiting.  But I remember thinking at that moment, amid the feelings of helpless frustration that had me close to tears, that nothing – and, brother, I mean nothing – that ever happened to me on this earth could come anywhere close, could possibly be as important to me, could make as much difference, as the fact that I had two children.  And that I would always have them and always find myself in this position of unrelieved responsibility and permanent distraction.”

    1. This strikes me as a Jungian roundelay – and by Jungian roundelay I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but I think I mean his synchronicity theory – yes he (not Sting) came up with that term. Kind of like – the simplest objects will tell us what we need to know on this earth. Objects are so important in his stories. Possessions, cars, phones, etc.

      I don’t know what it’s like to be a father, though I was a father figure. But if it makes sense to you all – I can cast my characters into that role. Maybe it is less compelling with no experience but there it is.

  8. Edward, thanks for sharing that. I love Raymond Carver’s fiction, and will track down that essay to read. As the mother of two children and a permanently distracted woman the last paragraph strikes a deep chord.

  9. Whores, addicts and diseased, perhaps.

    I have to also believe there’s something noble about writing. I have to believe, and this is a constant struggle, that at least some of my work matters, that the best of it is the result of something holy, a genius, working through me to bring some knowledge, some truth, and some emotion into the world.

    I want to illicit in readers that “aha” moment, that sense that they are reading something that speaks to their experiences and how they feel about themselves and others, our world.

    I want my work to be read in the hopes that it will matter to readers, make them feel something worthwhile.

    I want to evoke in readers that rush I get from reading something beautiful and powerful and moving, something that I can respond to with “Yes, that’s just how it is.”

    Thus I strive to be published and read, and ego of course …

  10. My obstacles seem to be entertainment, watching movies, which is fine, but…

    I remember watching Altman’s Vincent and Theo and I was so struck by the work ethic of Vincent that I shut off the movie and started writing. I was happy with myself that day.

    I was sick and watching a documentary about the Tsunami. A couple that was cast out and sucked under the water were talking. Their baby girl died. They came out of it with broken collarbones, ribs. Just to seem sharing how they had got on in five years was amazing. What courage that is. I’ve often wondered when the test will come my way. Scary.

    1. Cutting back on my movie watching gave me a lot more time for my writing.

      I used to watch two, three films a day. Now I write three hours a day, mostly without fail. I see fewer movies, to be sure, but I still watch “too many.” And the writing tends to take care of itself now. Although it still takes forever.

  11. somebody important, a poet laureate or someone said, “my greatest regret is that I didn’t have a pen” and I think, “gosh, i don’t ever want to think that” – but then, of course, you always need the pen when you don’t have it;)

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