Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Christmas message:
The ability to write is a special gift

After writing hundreds of articles, hundreds of ads and commercials, maybe 1,000 web pages, maybe 2,000 blog posts and about 15 books, and supplying words for uncounted packages, T-shirts and instruction manuals, I don't think writing is a big deal.

If I have to write something, I follow the Nike advice and just do it.

The last time I had "writer's block" was in 1970. I had a two-week dry spell while at my first job as assistant editor of a trade magazine. I got fired. I quickly rebounded, and was hired by another magazine (ROLLING STONE!) to do more interesting work and make more money.

While not everything I write is significant or memorable, I am able to make my eyes, hands and brain work together to do what they have to do, when they have to do it.

I would never dismiss writing as "just a job" like changing tires or pouring coffee.

I could not conceive of a money-making activity that could produce as much pleasure as writing. (At age 64, I am not likely to go into the gigolo business.)

Because writing is so easy for me, and so much fun, and so rewarding, I sometimes forget how special a skill it really is -- and that most non-writers are in awe of people who can put words together with ease, artfulness and speed.
  • A few years ago I was on a plane across the aisle from a woman who happened to be an author. Deborah Burgrraaf was reviewing the artwork for her second book, and soon caught the attention of the flight attendants, and nearby passengers. I might have thought -- but never said -- "big deal, another writer." But the reaction from others was, "WOW! -- You're an author!" I doubt that Michelle Obama, Britney Spears or a sky marshal who interrupted a hijacking could have received as much adulation as Deb did on the flight to Florida.
  • On another flight, I was marking up a proof of a book I wrote, and the hot babe sitting next to me noticed what I was doing. She asked why I was writing in red ink on the pages of a printed  book and I explained what I was doing. She asked if it was OK if she read some of the book, and I handed it to her. She quickly began smiling and laughing (which was my hoped-for reaction for the book. She said, "WOW -- I never met an author before!" If I was inclined to cheat on my wife, I probably could have joined the "Mile High Club" with my new fan.
  • About 15 years ago, my nephew's neighbor (then in junior high school) somehow secured my services to rewrite and retype her book report about Johnny Tremaine. She probably would have gotten an "F" without my aid. I did not want to produce a suspicious A-level report, so I throttled back my brain cells to produce something probably worthy of a B minus. She baked me some really good cookies, and I thought I was properly paid.
  • Around the same time, one of my neighbors arranged with my wife for me to write complaint letters for the neighbor's friends about (1) a train delay, and (2) melted ice cream in an apartment freezer that lost electric power. I never campaigned for the position or auditioned for the role or negotiated my fee. It was just assumed that since I am a writer, I write letters for PEOPLE I DO NOT KNOW. I did not even get cookies for this work.
  • When I first moved to Manhattan in 1970 to begin my writing career ($115 per week), I temporarily lived in a cell at the Grand Central YMCA, which was inexpensive and within walking distance of my job. The manager noticed that I had indicated "Assistant Editor" on my rental application. He said, "WOW -- You're an editor," and asked me if I'd rewrite a fundraising letter. I did the rewrite. He loved the new letter and gave me a significant rent reduction. Ah, the power of the press.
  • In my freshman year at Lehigh, I was a journalism major and one of the few literate students in an engineer-filled dorm. I built a lucrative business editing term papers. I got paid with cash, grass, concert tickets and vodka. The word among the engineers was, "Get Marcus to help you. He can write."
  • My wife frequently asks me for help personalizing greeting cards. I do it, grudgingly. I think that people buy cards to avoid having to write. As long as the person hired by Hallmark or American Greetings came up with an appropriate message, all that needs to be added are names and maybe a date. My wife insists that since I'm a professional writer, no card leaving our home can go without some custom prose.
  • A few years ago I gave a copy of a book I had written to the daughter of my wife's cousin. Her family loved the book, and she said, "We're all so proud of you."
None of the above is intended to be bragging. I assume that most of the people reading this blog have been in similar situations, and we don't think much of it. Yeah, we write. So what. No big deal.

Occasionally it's probably good to consider that it is a big deal. We do have a special talent (maybe a "gift").

Last year over one million books were published in the United States, and apparently there are about two million blog postings each day. But despite all of the words being strung together in print and electronic media, most people hate to write or don't write well or don't write much, and are in awe of professional writers.

So, if you're a writer, take a moment to congratulate yourself or buy yourself a drink. But, as Pa Kent advised the future Superman, "Use your power wisely."
               DO NOT WRITE CRAP!