Thursday, October 18, 2012

Advice for Writers--Persistence and Foolishness

I don’t know if I have shared the story of the clock and how I nearly drove my brother Ron crazy with it. This summer, our pastor asked me to take apart some study carrels in the Rock 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 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, 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.”

As I'm working my way through multiple revisions of my novel, I am thinking that persistence is a good quality for a writer. It takes persistence to write and keep writing, to keep at it until it's right and then to persist in revision to make it better and better. Perhaps there's some foolishness there as well. Mom was right about most things, after all.

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