Liars Club

New Year, New Hills to Climb

by Keith Strunk on January 6, 2015

in The Writing Life

It is again a new year for writing and I find myself vacillating between feeling good about projects that I’ve finished this past year and chastising myself for missing my own deadlines for a number of other projects. I’m of course my own worst taskmaster willing to throw my gains under the bus to beat myself up about my shortcomings. It’s a fruitless game to be sure! The good news for me and bad news for my evil twin taskmaster is that I’ve spent today making really good progress on my middle grade book and have found an interesting bit of unexpected advice in my research.

The two paragraphs I share with you are from THE AUTOCRAT OF THE BREAKFAST-TABLE. It’s a book of essays written in the late 1850’s by Oliver Wendell Holmes. While finding a piece of information for my book, I stumbled upon a bit of wisdom from a writer for a writer. I found it remarkably salient to our times. Perhaps it will stir up some discussion at our next Writer’s Coffeehouse at either The New Leaf Café in Rosemont, PA from 12-2 on January 18, 2015 or at the Willow Grove Barnes and Noble on January 25, 2015 from 12-3. I’ll be at the Willow Grove Coffeehouse this month so you can challenge my assumptions there if you wish!

From THE AUTOCRAT OF THE BREAKFAST-TABLE by Oliver Wendell Holmes, page 290:

You long to “leap at a single bound into celebrity.” Nothing is so common-place as to wish to be remarkable. Fame usually comes to those who are thinking about something else, – very rarely to those who say to themselves, “Go to, now, let us be a celebrated individual!” The struggle for fame, as such, commonly ends in notoriety; – that ladder is easy to climb, but it leads to the pillory which is crowded with fools who could not hold their tongues and rogues who could not hide their tricks.

If you have the consciousness of genius, do something to show it. The world is pretty quick, nowadays, to catch the flavor of true originality; if you write anything remarkable, the magazines and newspapers will find you out, as the school-boys find out where the ripe apples and pears are. Produce anything really good, and an intelligent editor will jump at it. Don’t flatter yourself that any article of yours is rejected because you are unknown to fame. Nothing pleases an editor more than to get anything worth having from a new hand. There is always a dearth of really fine articles for a first-rate journal; for, of a hundred pieces received, ninety are at or below the sea-level; some have water enough, but no head; some head enough, but no water; only two or three are from full reservoirs, high up that hill which is so hard to climb.

I would agree with Mr. Holmes that it’s a hard hill to climb. . .but climb it we must. Time to throw my evil twin taskmaster under the bus and keep writing.

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Kerry Gans January 12, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Excellent advice! How many “overnight successes” actually have years of hard work behind them? I will see you at Willow Grove. And I’m glad you made progress on your novel–I can’t wait to read it!

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