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Your Responsibilities as a Writer
A Personal Opinion to Begin With
I have no patience with half-efforts. When I was a teacher my students knew this. Give me your best or give me nothing at all. That was my teaching mantra, and it is my writing mantra today.
Why such a hard-ass, Bill?
Because we have been given a gift….the gift of life….the most precious gift imaginable, and I think it is an incredible waste to not drain every last ounce of living from that gift.
We are, in a very real sense, what we believe. If we believe that sub-standard effort is all right, then our lives will be a testimony to that belief. If, however, we believe in excellence, then that, too, will be our testimony and our legacy.Few of us are ever going to see fame and fortune. Few of us will strike it rich, drive fancy cars, and have publishers signing us to multi-book deals. Few of us will be internationally acclaimed. If we are to believe Thoreau, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
I do not want that for you.
You are writer….hear you roar!
Just as we have all been given the gift of life, all writers have been given the gift of words. It is not a gift to be taken lightly. Not everyone can do what we do, and I say that with total conviction and confidence. There is no ego in that statement. It is a simple truth that not everyone can be a writer, just as not everyone can be a painter, sculptor, or musician. I cannot draw a stick figure, but I can damn well write, and that gift carries with it some responsibilities that I take very seriously.
Responsibility to Society
During this past weekend there was another mass killing, this one taking place near the University of California Santa Barbara. More death, more sadness, and more questions about the insanity of our society….a common occurrence in today’s world. We are all touched by it. How could we not be? Innocents struck down in their youth, lifetimes of promise ended much too soon, and as sure as the sun rises in the east, there will be more.
History is littered with sadness, examples of man’s inhumanity toward man. It is a constant in our lives, as sure a thing as taxes and death. What can we do? How do we stop the madness? Where can we turn for a respite from it all?
We can turn, and always have turned in the past, to the writers.
We pick up a book, and for the few days it takes to read that work, reality is suspended, and we are transported into the fictional cocoon created for our enjoyment. We form a bond with the author. He/she promises to entertain us, to uplift us, and to inspire us, and if they have done their job, then life’s harsh edges take on a softer, rounded form, and for that we are so very grateful.
As writers, it is our responsibility to entertain, to inform, and to provide tranquility. It is a responsibility I take seriously, and you should as well.
Somewhere in the world right now, there is a little girl living a sad and hopeless life, born to poverty and condemned to the same. Her sadness is, at times, overwhelming, and reality is something for her to dread daily. The only comfort she can find is in her books. There she can escape. There she can soar as the eagle, swim as the dolphin, and experience all that will never be hers. She walks a mile to the secondhand store and there, for a dollar, she can buy a new, old novel to read. She hides under the covers at night, flashlight in hand, and anxiously awaits each new adventure.
That little girl is your responsibility if you are a writer.
If we are to believe Thoreau, millions upon millions of people go to the grave with the song still in them, but for the time they spend reading a book, a few notes of that song are sung and thoroughly enjoyed. Their inadequacies are forgotten. Their missed opportunities are shoved into the closets of their minds, and they can just relax and live, through the printed words, lives they dream about.
Quite the responsibility we have as writers, don’t you think?
For centuries, that responsibility has been passed down, from Shakespeare to Blake, from Bronte to King, until finally it arrives at your doorstep. What are you going to do with it? Will you treat it with disdain and indifference, or will you pick it up, gently embrace it, and give it the attention and love it deserves?
Responsibility to Yourself
You get one shot.
Seventy, eighty years if you are average; less if you are not. Comparatively speaking, you are a blink in the eye of history.
What will you do with your limited time?
Will you become the best writer you can possibly be, or will you treat your talent as though it were a useless prize from a Cracker Jack box?
Do you have any idea how many people wish they could write as well as you? Do you?
This writer cannot play the electric guitar. I wish I could. I have loved lead guitarists since I heard my first rock band during the 60s. Say the name Jimmie Hendrix and I quiver. Tease me with a little Eric Clapton and I drool and beg for more.
But I will never be a guitarist of that ability. It is not in the cards, and I am fine listening to their music, and living vicariously through their notes.
And I suspect….no, I know….the same is true of many people who have no writing ability. They read the words of Harper Lee and they are enraptured, or they read your words and they are captivated.
I have been given a gift…..you have been given a gift….and I say to you now that it is a sin to waste that gift.
Do not wait until tomorrow to improve your writing.
Do it now!
Do not wait until tomorrow to submit your work to a publisher.
Do it now!
Do not wait until tomorrow to begin work on that novel that has been chewing a hole in your gut for years.
Do it now!
Do not go to the grave with the song still in you.
Join me on my website
- William Holland | Thoreau of the 21st Century
Tips, conversations, and thoughts on the art of writing
“Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”
There you have it.
Release the emergency brake and get busy. You have work to do. You have a unique voice that needs to be heard. You have a gift that needs to be shared. I don’t give a damn what obstacles you face in the present, or what defeats you have suffered in the past. Today is your day. You are a writer, unique among the millions of writers in the world, and that uniqueness must be experienced by the world of readers.
Do not let them down.
Do not let yourselves down.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”