Tag Archive for becoming a writer

Writing: The Road that Took Me

by Kenneth W. Meyer

The road that took me. I can’t say that I’ve never known a time when I wanted to be a writer, but I do remember a day in the eighth grade when I wrote a story about a metalworker fashioning a helmet for the soldiers of Julius Caesar’s army which so startled our teacher that she read it aloud to the class (which is not to say it was any good), and even in childhood I tended to believe there were the creative arts and then merely things one did to get by (never mind the fact that the latter absorbed the lives of most of us). I definitely had a romantic view of the arts. Books in my early years were associated with the ideas of exploration and travel, either through the wonderful tales of Mary Renault (set in ancient Greece), Henry Treece (endless Viking yarns), Mika Waltari (The Egyptian and other works) or Gore Vidal (ancient Rome or his series set in 18th and 19th century U.S.), or through the science fiction of Damon Knight, Robert Heinlein and others. There was a clear escapist bent in these choices. A growing conviction also took shape that not only could one examine past and future worlds through fiction and biographies, but to the extent possible one should do one’s own travels in the physical world; that is, one should be one’s own Ibn Batuta, Ibn Khaldun, Admiral Zheng He, or Sir Richard Burton. Accordingly, admittedly not quite on the scale of the great travelers mentioned above, a current submission to the Red Wheelbarrow Writers’ anthology pertains to a student days’ drive through Turkey.

Lao Tsu said one should be like a child, which I took to mean maintaining a sense of wonder and excitement in discovery, or as Heraclitus cautioned (as usual in a difficult and paradoxical way): “Only those who expect it will discover the unexpected.“ Of course, submitting stories led to repeated rejections and pain, and in real travel there were also risks – one might come back ill or not come back at all, but it seemed that in order to write interesting things one had to try to live an interesting life. Or again, explorations needed to proceed both intellectually and in the physical world; cursing over the 2000 Chinese characters one needed to read the newspaper, being eaten alive by mosquitoes in the student hostel west of El Alamein, opening with dread but nevertheless opening Perry’s Sanskrit Primer, and so on.

As time went by, one might have hoped I would have outgrown the reverence for writing, but experience in the workaday world only solidified it, and the habit of writing refused to go away. Stories are still rejected, loved ones formerly besieged by boxes of manuscripts now cringe at e-attachments and memory sticks. There has been no end to it. To be sure there have been stretches of time (some of them considerable) where no projects were underway, but fingers continue to return to the keyboard.   I would probably say as many others have in the past: I don’t have the desire to write; rather, the daemon of writing frequently has me.

In 2010 I was in a meeting in an Asian city with my superior and a hundred colleagues. My new manager said graciously, “And we want to welcome Ken to our location.” I was advised this was something she always said. Okay fine. But then she added, “And he’s a writer too!” “Not a very successful one,” I admitted to the group. “But thank you.”

The main thing is to persevere.

 

Kenneth MyerKenneth W. Meyer writes general historical fiction, short stories and academic items related to his longstanding interest in China and the Middle East. He spent most of his adult life abroad, starting with study in Egypt and Taiwan, and with his wife May currently divides his time between the Pacific Northwest and Hong Kong. He is thankful to be in Washington State and in one piece.

How to Become a Writer Part 3 by Laura Kalpakian

The Romantic Particularist 

by

Laura Kalpakian

 I have always thought that the perfect person to be married to would be an astronomer. Every day at work he would sit beneath the massive dome of an observatory and peer out into the cosmos, the distant constellations, the galaxies far far away. Then, he’d come home and see the baby throwing applesauce everywhere, one kid painting on the walls, and the other having a meaningless, unfettered tantrum. The astronomer would walk past Legos spilled all over the floor, past the unwashed dishes, unfolded laundry, wave to the wife who is on the phone while the rice overcooks and bubbles on the stove. The astronomer would know that in the great plan of the universe, these particulars simply do not matter. (Full disclosure: I was once married to a theoretical physicist, an oceanographer who spent his days making mathematical models of the way the wind and the sea made love, but it wasn’t like the above.)

 Nonetheless, I cling to my notion of the ideal-astronomer-spouse, the Universalist whose approach to life is cosmic. As a writer, I am a confirmed Particularist. The writer can’t be anything else. Others might be able to choose: either you look for, take your cue from the universal in the world, like the astronomer. Or you are fascinated, transfixed by the particular. Writers belong in the latter camp. Poets belong in the former.

Great poetry might emerge from the Universalist instinct, as in Byron, Keats, Wordsworth, Whitman, Yeats, Matthew Arnold, or further back, (to my mind, boring) Mr. Milton and boring Mr. Pope. But narrative prose emerges from Particulars. Stories might eventually approach the Universal, but they do not begin there.

No writer, including Shakespeare, ever said: I am going to write a narrative prose about universal themes. (Remember that hilarious scene in Shakespeare in Love where Will is flailing away trying to write Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter?) Every writer, including Will the Bard begins with scraps of particulars, What If?

Hmm, what if you have a king, a powerful king, whose judgment is failing, who decides to test his children’s love (Note in margin: which he doubts anyway) by making them slaver after his inheritance. Thus you have King Lear, or with a tweak, tug and pull, Death of a Salesman. Hundreds of years apart, these plays are thematically linked under the Universalist canopy. Perhaps for those universal reasons, we return to these works to cry our eyes out at the particulars: the delusions of these men, the loyalty or treachery of the family, the friends, the last grasp at dignity.

Remember William Faulkner’s well-known anecdote about how he came by the idea for The Sound and the Fury? True, he took his epigram and his title from Macbeth, and true the book is divided into three sections (only one of which is actually readable), and true the central character, the sister, Caddy, only shows up in her brothers’ narratives indirectly, and true The Sound and the Fury is a challenging read of epic proportions. But Faulkner got the idea watching a bunch of kids climb a tree, and the little girl at very top had muddy drawers. That Great American Novel emerged from a particular pair of dirty knickers.

As a writer the Romantic Particularist is constantly nudged, nettled, fascinated, kept awake by the great What If. The writer gets the equivalent of imaginative poison ivy mulling over a shard of story overheard, a conversation on the bus, a scrap of incident, a friend’s dilemma, a cranky barista. These are particulars that irritate, stay with the writer till she actually does something about it. She can forget about it; that’s one possibility, or she can write about it.

The best and most succinct description of task of the Romantic Particularist, ironically comes from a writer who was a confirmed Universalist. I speak of that eccentric, poet, printer, painter and illustrator, a taker of tea while naked in his garden, the dreamer and death-haunted, William Blake. From his Auguries of Experience it goes something like this:

To see the world in a grain of sand

And heaven in a wild flower.

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand.

And Eternity in an hour.

That’s your task, my ink-stained friends. Have at it. You are responsible for the particulars. The universals will take care of themselves.