16 April 2001

"If I didn't have writing, I'd be running down the street hurling grenades in people's faces."
   -Paul Fussell

I don't feel particularly entertaining or witty at this moment, so what I want to write about is how writers who sit and wait for divine inspiration often end up not writing anything at all, while at the far other end of the spectrum are those who madly dash off words as quickly as they think them up, regardless of a musely sanctioning. These latter are a curious bunch, cutting a wide swath with their pens, ravaging the literary landscape with debris. These are the people who believe it is somebody else's job to clean it up, make it readable, make it saleable.

The rest of us have to pick gingerly through this junk as we seek out readers, agents, editors, and publishers for our own work. I do feel sorry for the agents and editors who are sitting buried under the fat piles of badly conceived, poorly executed prose and poetry.

Don't get me wrong -- the sparkle and dazzle of an inspirational flash is something perfectly wonderful. However, those who have the habit of referring to themselves as "idea" people rather than "detail" people might be better advised to find other lines of work. Writers who don't finish what they start, don't polish what they finish, aren't actually writers. The divide between the poet and the poetaster is deep and wide, and there is a good reason why more than 90% of the writers who submit stories receive regular rejection. Real writers know that once the inspirational flash finishes, the work actually begins.

I know a woman who considers herself a fine poet. She feels she's in constant communion with her personal, private muse. She never goes anywhere without a pen and pad for jotting down her ideas and inspirations. The little note pads are filled with images, shards of her creative consciousness, which she later breaks apart into lines she labels "poetry," even though there is no reflection or reworking brought to bear against the raw words and phrases. She never really finishes anything she writes, nor does she ever submit her work anywhere, and as a result is unpublished, except for classroom chapbooks.

This same woman has often told me she expects her work will be "discovered" after her death, and she fully believes she'll be the "Grandma Moses" of poetry one day. She feels that all she needs is some person to "organize" her poetry, making it palatable to the public taste. Maybe so, but I don't want to bet my bottom dollar on it.

I think Fortune does favor those writers who are willing to do the work, pay the dues, and through dint of mindful effort, make the world sit up and take notice of them.

Excuse me. I hear my Muse calling. I'm sure the charges are collect.


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