Thursday, June 21, 2012

Advice on Writing: Persistence and Stupidity

I don’t know if I have shared the story of the clock here and how I nearly drove my brother Ron crazy with it. I think I have mentioned that our pastor asked me to take apart some study carrels in one of our church buildings and move them to another room. He said, “I hear you’re good at that sort of thing,” meaning taking things apart and then (sometimes) actually putting them back together again. I have been that way ever since I can remember—I like to take things apart and put them back together, if I can. Which I can’t sometimes.

Anyhow, I somehow got hold of a mechanical clock when I was about ten years old. I took it apart, put all the pieces in a shoe box and then tried to put it back together again. I had no idea how to do this, but after we ate dinner, I would sit at the kitchen table and fiddle with the parts for hours, until it was time to go to bed. I was so engrossed in what I was doing that I didn’t notice that my brother Ron was growing impatient with my tedious and obsessive efforts.  After about two weeks of this, he couldn’t take any more. He grabbed the box of clock parts, screamed, “I can’t take this any more!” ran to the door and threw the box into the darkness of the back yard.

I sat there stunned for a moment. Our mother looked at me. “He’s right, you know. Give it up.”

I made a move for the family flashlight which we were not allowed to use without special permission since we would play with it and use the batteries up. “You may not use the flashlight,” Mom warned sternly.

I rose early in those days, so at first light I was outside, meticulously gathering clock parts from the grass and putting them in the box. As I brought my treasure inside, my mom was waiting for me. She sighed. “I’ll say this for you: you’re either persistent or stupid.”

In thinking about writing, sometimes I think that writers (and I say this with as much affection as I can muster) are both persistent and stupid. As for persistence, how many people would keep at something (short story, novel, play, poem) for weeks or months or years with no guarantee that it will ever come to anything or ever see the light of day? Writers do, that's who. 

By the same token, I think writers (self included) are on the foolish side. (My mama taught me to never call anyone stupid, except she called me that because, well, I was sometimes.) Ours is a solitary pursuit, and the same quality of persistence can seem foolish to relatives, friends and acquaintances.

I have already experienced the glazed eye look when I  tell people about the great scene I wrote that morning for my novel. No one cares about our writing as much as we do, and no one is as persistent at what we do, even when it seems a foolish pursuit. 

I think, though, that we're really determined and the smartest, kindest, most talented and good-looking people on earth. If my mama were still with us, she would tell me not to brag. But, as my daughter Amy says, "It's not bragging if you're telling the truth." And I am.

1 comment:

  1. Love this post, Dan! Wonderful metaphor and memoir. Belongs in a book on writing.

    Good for you for going after the clock parts. Did you ever get it put back together?