Back at my ‘real’ job, I’ve been charged with putting together a newsletter written entirely by my learning-center English students, ranging in ages from 4 to 16. I admit I was annoyed at first to be given that task when I’m trying to get my own book out the door; but it has turned into a labor of love. My kids have taken to the task with great zeal, and even those who do not like to write have turned in some impressive offerings. The idea of seeing their work in print, likely to be read by others, is powerful incentive. They write with such determination and passion, their pencils carve deep scratches into their writing books. Some of the stories are lovingly illustrated, others decorated with fancy lettering; and as soon as they get to class, they insist on reading their masterpieces aloud to me. They tear up when I point out spelling and grammar mistakes, but accept my criticisms bravely. The hardest task, it seems, is getting them to settle on a topic worth writing about—but isn’t this true with all writers? I finally got two of my most recalcitrant students, a pair of middle-school boys, to write competing and enthusiastic stories on the topic “Jumping Out of An Airplane” (their suggestion, not mine!)
All of this makes me think about the way I approach my own writing. I wish sometimes I had that zeal and joy when I sit down with my notebook or at the computer (I’m one of those crazies who likes to write everything out longhand before committing to the screen). Long ago I gave up on the concept of ‘inspiration’ and decided to approach my writing as regular job, something which gets done every day no matter what. The problem with this is that while you might have the occasional day of splendid, ecstatic writing, when everything flows from your brain unbidden, there are too many days moping about, thinking about something else I’d rather be doing. But even this can be instructive: I find if I’m facing a week or more of mopey writing, then that particular project needs to be canceled or shelved; stalling is usually an indicator that something is seriously wrong. So just as I have my closetful of partially finished knitting projects, I also have a trunkful of unfinished manuscripts—which I sometimes unpick and re-work into meaningful projects later on down the road.
But starting a new project is always like jumping out of an airplane: There is the surge of adrenaline, exhilaration, the giddiness of the novelty, but also the awful fear that the whole thing will fall flat or disintegrate into mid-air. I feel, as the persistent writer that I am, that I have been jumping out of airplanes my whole life; and sometimes that fall to earth is blissful, other times not so much. I’m feeling that The Novice Master is my biggest jump yet, and frankly, I’m terrified: Not that it gets a bad reception, but that it gets no reception whatsoever. So once more the leap of faith, and hope it all works out in the end.
As for my students, their reward comes at the end of the month when their ‘English Express’ comes hot off the copying machine. And maybe I, too, should be content with the book I hold in my hands, my thoughts solidified into ink and paper; and not so much with the acclaim I still long for, after all these years.