BEFORE THE ADVENT OF THE WORD PROCESSOR, weren’t we more measured in what we wrote? Didn’t we choose the elements of language with a bit more care? I’m not a student of literature. Mrs. Lundin, my 12th grade literature teacher would attest that I was likely one of her biggest career failures.
True to her concerns, it has only been since I retired from education that I’ve found the time to read much of anything. I started with popular fiction. Stuff I’d missed. Series stuff. Best sellers from the New York Times. I made sure to read a modern work of fiction - a mystery - written by an author I'd met whose final MBA project was to create a successful business plan. Her plan: To write a commercially successful novel. The result? A 300 page sit-com. There must be more compelling reasons to read, I thought.
BACK IN WYOMING a year ago, I purchased a copy of The Virginian by Owen Wister. Published in 1913, it is a difficult book to read, partly because the language of 100 years ago is not the language of today. The Virginian is not a novel one simply breezes through. Between its covers is exposure to the wide-open landscape of the wide and wonderful Wyoming high grass range. Morning sunrises that shiver. Long saddle-bound days that ache. Conflict that grows to be played out over months, not moments. And character: character that came to define the persona of the western cowboy and the West itself. Did it just spill out this way or did Wister write and revise and rewrite?
I DON’T LIKE READING SLOWLY. Or, I didn’t. Now I don’t like reading crap.
I look at what I write and realize that’s what I write. In part, because I have so many skills still in need of refinement. And, in part, because I haven’t exposed myself to good literature. (You win, Mrs. Lundin.) I have something like a shoot first and ask questions later methodology about my work. I blame a computer-as-crutch syndrome because anything I publish today, I can fix tomorrow: correct the errors, whittle on a sentence, or just change something for the hell of it.
I HOPE THAT I'LL WRITE GOOD some day. As I look at the work of the giants that preceded our generation, I realize that just as I must read slowly to fully appreciate the genius of their work, I must write slowly, to have any chance of approximating a good story. I must think first and write phrases later.
As should most authors. Because, if today’s writers create literature that stimulates no more thought than a sit-com, will it matter if anybody reads it?
Church of the Open Road Press