Winter this year has been more confining than most. Snow, which we once expected anytime after Labor Day to as late as the first of June, had been almost absent for the last decade or so here on our mountain, but not this winter. Although the first snow didn’t fall until well into the winter months, it more than made up for it in volume. Reminds me of something I used to say to my staff about our operation: we lose money of every item, but we make it up in volume. A joke, of course, but in a way not. The more you do of something, the more efficient you can become, and at times even profitable. But I digress.
What I started to tell you about was a book I recently read. With the shorter days, the longer spells of weather when one goes outside only of necessity, it is a time for reading, and for me, a time to catch up on books I have put aside for just such an opportunity.
Looking over the shelves in our library the other afternoon, I pulled out a book I had added some years ago, but had not gotten around to reading. That happens when you buy or are given books when your reading time is limited, and your reading list is long.
The book is Writers on Writing, and was published in 1946 by Charles Scribner’s Sons. The author, Robert van Gelder, wrote this collection of interviews for the book section of the New York Times between 1940 and 1946. There are 89 interviews plus an introduction, and each is not only interesting but instructive. Writing, for those of us who have made a career of it, is a special sort of work, having both pluses and minuses. It was revealing to me to discover that I share some of the same feelings, techniques and satisfactions with a rather large group of really well-known and accomplished writers of both fiction and non-fiction.
Aside from techniques I use to get past what is called "writer’s block," I find that other writers experience the same sense of accomplishment not just from finishing a story or an essay or even a news story, but often simply from the writing itself. For me, the act of writing is immensely satisfying even when it is frustrating or turns out to be something I later discard. There are times when I don’t write, either because I have other parts of a job to do once I have a completed manuscript, or because it simply becomes necessary to re-charge my creative well, or seek out a new client or discover a story that I think needs to be written. Eventually, regardless of the holiday I am taking, the urge, the need to sit down and write, to see words appear on paper, becomes overwhelming, and so the process begins again. In interview after interview, van Gelder reports his subjects experiencing the same sort of motivation, the kind of internal need to write that overwhelms me, too.
I could repeat the names of some or all of the 89 authors interviewed, but many are names you’ve never heard of perhaps, and probably none are still among us. They represent late 19th century to early 20th century literature and writers, but the message (to me anyway) is still current and true, and the reward, as a reader and a writer, is learning that I am not the only one to discover the tools as well as the techniques, the toil as well as the joy.
In a way reading writing makes me more than myself.