Know what I’ve noticed over the years? Some writers want to be unusual people. They talk about how strange they are, as if strangeness is a quality to be cultivated. Well, I’ve got news for you–I have about a hundred close writer friends, and they’re not strange at all. You could have dinner with any one of them in a public place and no one would stare at you. On the other hand, when I took my daughter to art school, I stared at everyone in attendance. You want to know unconventional, get thee to an artists’ colony.
Maybe, you say, I don’t notice that my novelist friends are strange because I’m strange. But I still beg to differ. Every been to a dentists’ convention? Hung out with circus folk? Gone “backstage” at a dog show? If you’ve done any of the above, you’ll realize that everyone is strange in their own way. And when like minds congregate, the difference tends to show.
Yet when writers cultivate their unconventionality, I think we make writing seem altogether too mystical, as if mere mortals can’t possibly aspire to it. Blarney and poppycock. Anyone with the gift of sitting still can learn to write. They may not be artistic about it, but if they can speak and think, they can write. Written communication is not rocket science.
One of my favorite writing books is Dare To Be a Great Writer by Leonard Bishop. I’ve had this book for years and never tire of flipping through the assorted entries. But one entry, I think, was written entirely tongue in cheek. Bishop says that once you have become a best-selling author, you need to develop a persona; you need to cultivate the writer’s mystique:
“No longer have casual conversations. Conduct orations. Not with passive platitudinous ponderosities, but with dynamics and charm. Use the body language of a shadow-boxing pugilist. Develop cunning facial expressions. Grimace as though pained with profundity. Wink, pout, sigh, crack your knuckles in contemplation. Use a repertoire of snappy jokes employed by any popular dentist. Be direct, outspoken, bold. Do not become subtle or ethereal with implication. Audiences are not talented at grasping existentialist innuendo. Rehearse being extemporaneous. “
I respond to the above with a ROFLOL. And while I’ll admit that my ten presentations at schools in the past week contained a LOT of body language, acting, and humor (two girls from one school dubbed me the ‘drama queen’), most of that was just to make sure my audience remained awake and interested.
Yes, writing requires a lot of hard work. Writing a good novel takes hard work and endless hours. Writing an artistic novel takes even more time. Writing an artistic novel that doesn’t put people to sleep requires even more effort. Few folks commit to that level of sacrifice.
But there are surgeons who strive for that level of excellence in their field . . . and teachers who aim for excellence in order to influence young lives. And broadcasters and mothers and fathers and architects and pastors and dog groomers, all of whom have committed their lives and their careers to excellence for the glory of God.
Does that make them strange? In a sea of mediocrity, perhaps. In the light of eternity, they’re not strange at all. They’re the called, the committed, the good stewards. The ones who will hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
I aspire to be one of them, but I don’t think that makes me strange. Just . . . called.