I’ve lately grown into the habit of working on my writing-related work from a local coffee shop. It’s refreshing to get away from the distractions of home; at the coffee shop, I can simply plug in and type. With mocha and free wireless Internet. Heavenly.
Occasionally, this new venue provides ample fodder for the people-watcher in me. As I type this, I am listening to two people engage in what they no doubt believe is a deep and meaningful theological discussion about the various charisms of evangelical Christianity vis-a-vis traditional Islam. Might be interesting were it not for the conversants’ utter lack of comprehension about the subject. In fairness, at least they’re trying; sometimes it seems that too few bother nowadays.
Anyway, to the point.
We need to escape the box of comfort in which we prefer to dwell. I had this collision with the obvious a few days ago, when it occurred to me that part of my hesitation to really focus on my writing lay in the somewhat irrational belief that if I managed to be widely published, then I might not fully learn my limits as a writer. Unreflectively, it was psychologically safer to prepare to write, than to write and then to deal with the consequences.
It’s not easy for someone unaccustomed to serious challenge to accept the possibility that I will try my hardest but still fail, or that I will do mediocre work and find success. Silly? Maybe. But I’ve led an easy life, and leaving that comfort zone to find my true limits requires a discipline and a courage I’ve not often had to muster.
Perhaps that’s why one of the few truly powerful motivators in my life has been WWFD — What Would Frank Do? Frank is my grandfather, who passed away too early, last fall, at age 72. This man grew up on a farm in rural Michigan; served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War; raised three daughters; served several terms as the elected treasurer of his township — usually unopposed; ascended the ranks from floor-sweeper to vice president for the only real employer he ever had. He was tough but kind, the sort of man who never had a cross word for anyone but had a physical and a moral strength that inspired respect. He had a reputation as a great communicator whose honesty was beyond question, even among his few opponents.
He achieved success in life because he was disciplined, and as such, his life has been a reproach to me. Now that he’s gone, I sometimes wonder what he might do were he in my place. And sometimes, I get a bit embarrassed by the comparison.
But leave the comfort zone we must. And so, here I sit, pretending that I’m writing by writing a blog post about writing. At least I can console myself that it’s a step in the right direction, provided I don’t probe too deeply into the psychology of it.
Because my ideal life is to spend my days on a hobby farm in the countryside, supporting a comfortable lifestyle through the magical power of the written word, it makes sense that I should actually write something. Another collision with the obvious. The plan, therefore, is twofold. First, I want to do some freelance journalism — research-based articles, columns, features, whatever — especially for commerical and trade mags. Second, there are two novels lurking in the back of my head that have been begging to be written for several years, and now’s as good of a time as any to unleash them upon the world.
I am not insensitive to the objection that might be lurking in the mind of my friend Duane as he reads this. He tells me, not unpersuasively, that a writer writes without regard for whether he’ll be published or see a dime in royalties. Writers are impelled to commit word to paper, even if no one ever sees the paper; that’s what differentiates a true writer from a hack.
I think he’s got a point. And that’s partly why my trademark lack of discipline might be on the verge of defeat (at least in this regard) — for I truly love the craft. Not just the idea of being a writer, but actually thinking about character development and plot and turns of phrase and research. Not being published hasn’t really been an issue; I’ve written all sorts of things never intended for release. Plus, some of my fondest memories from my time at the Western Herald involved conducting deadline interviews or finessing a particularly contentious editorial topic or digging into the university budget to find out for myself whether the administration’s rhetoric matched its pocketbook.
So now that I’m plotting the intensification and commericalization of my writing, the discipline issue arises. It’s scary, in ways that are simultaneously trite and immobilizing and invigorating.
All I can do, I guess, is take it one graf at a time — all the while, steeling myself with the accusation: WWFD?