In Leon Uris’s novel “QB VII”, a writer is asked to give a talk to a group of would-be writers. His talk goes something like this.
“How many of you want to be writers?” (Hands go up all over the hall) “Then why aren’t you at home writing?” And he walks offstage.
Yes, it’s rude, and rigorous, but definitely to the point. It’s easy to talk about writing. I meet would-be writers all the time.
“Yeah, I’d really like to write,” they say. But give them the least bit of encouragement and they’ll start telling you all the stuff they want to write. Guess what? That’s not writing. That’s talking about writing. If you want to write, my best advice is, “Butt in the chair, pointy end of the pen on the paper”.
I have an online writing friend, Lucinda Kempe, who does that. She’s a sterling example of how far sheer persistence will take you.
Don’t get me wrong – Lucinda has talent, and she has stories to tell. Many other would-be writers have the same. The truth is, neither of those things will get you anywhere if you don’t do the work.
I’m blown away by Lucinda’s ability to rewrite, rewrite and edit. She told me once she’d worked one story over forty-one times to get it perfect. She has weaknesses, as do we all. There’s not a perfect writer in the world, and I don’t except myself from that. But Lucinda persists, and her persistence is paying off. She’s had scholarships two years in a row to the Southampton Writers Conference at NYU Stonybrook.
More than that, this year Frederic Tuten, who led the workshop Lucinda took, suggested to her that a short story she had written was potentially a novel.
I’ve worked with Lucinda on some of her stories (grammar-punctuation-and-diction dominatrices have their uses!), and I’ve seen how she never gives up, never truly abandons a story. She works hard at learning the nuts and bolts of writing in order to let those stories shine through. Some of them are dark and disturbing. Some, like this one, are wildly, quirkily humourous. But every one, by the time she’s ready to submit, has been polished to a mirror shine by sheer writerly elbow grease.
I met Lucinda online a couple of years ago when she first joined Zoetrope, and I loved her enthusiasm, her humour and her stories. Now I also admire her sheer grit and determination in making those stories the best they can be. She’s a brilliant example of where plain old work can take you.