The Writing Life

By Sunny Lockwood

What makes these writers smile?

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” – Rudyard Kipling

Copyright 2010 by Sunny Lockwood All Rights Reserved First electronic publication, October 2010

I Why Write?
Why do we write? Those of us who day after day work to transfer meaning and experience through words, know the struggle. Sitting here, staring at the blank sheet of paper, thinking and thinking and feeling and feeling, trying to place the best word next and next and next, trying to construct the perfect line or sentence or paragraph to precisely convey our message. And then what? Erasing or deleting the whole thing. And starting over. Staring at the sheet of paper in front of us, or staring out the window trying to think of what should be written next. Walking to the kitchen for a sandwich or a cup of coffee. Coming back and staring at the white sheet of paper, trying to pull reality out of nothing but our imagination. Why do we do this? Why do we put ourselves through this gauntlet, unsure that our message is worth the effort, unsure that we’ve got the right words in the right order so that our writing will grab a reader and fill him or her with pleasure? There are many reasons to write: to earn money, to tell the truth, to create a world and characters that have never existed before, to express ourself, to share what we’ve experienced or learned, to preserve something important, to entertain.

But there are easier ways to make money. And there are other ways to express ourselves – there’s music and photography and painting and sculpture and dance and quilting and cooking to name a few. And there are other ways to share our experiences and ideas – through teaching, storytelling or acting. We who write choose the challenge of creating with nothing but words -- black scratches on white paper. And on those occasions when we get it right, when our words line up like a graceful, colorful parade and their truth flows in perfect time with our heartbeats, on those days, we know why we write.

II To write Is to work alone
Writing is a solitary endeavor. We are alone with our words, our blank paper and, often, our blank mind. When it comes to our work, it’s just us and words. There is no one else. And there are times when the intensity of the isolation can almost smother our endeavor. To escape our aloneness, we sometimes join writers groups where we can hear the work of others and share our own. And sometimes joining such a group helps. I joined Scribd to sell my work to readers. The New York Times said Scribd was a place where authors could sell directly to readers sans publishing houses and bookstores, and that idea excited me. Alas, my Scribd sales have been scant.

But I quickly discovered that Scribd’s electronic world of writing and reading offers more than I’d anticipated. Here is a community of accomplished writers, beginning writers, midcareer writers, change-of-life writers. In some cases the writers are as interesting as their work: inventors, retired airforce officers, teachers, scientists, former prostitutes, ministers and ex-cons, survivors of cancer and incest and toxic religion. Scribd is a world piled high with poems and essays, short stories, articles and drafts of novels. It’s a reader’s dream. As I began reading and commenting on the work I liked, and as I began receiving comments from others on my work, I discovered a circle of wordsmiths whom I admire as individuals and whose writing I love. For me, the true Scribd-surprise is the friendships that have sprouted, grown and blossomed here.

III Celebrating Writing and writers
Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010, six Scribd writers got together in San Francisco to read their work at a Mission District coffee house. The readings were part of San Francisco’s annual literary festival: LitQuake. Other writers were reading their work at other places throughout the city, but Sweetheart Al and I wanted to hear these Scribd wordsmiths. We’d read some of their work on-line and were impressed enough to want to meet them in person; to listen face-to-face as they lent their voices to their words.

We wanted to encourage and support their creative efforts and reassure ourselves that the art of writing continues its robust existence. We were not the only ones eager for the readings. Four Barrel Coffee on Valencia felt large and serious, with a coffee bean roasting area in the back, four mounted boars’ heads on a front wall and scores of narrow tables surrounded by chairs. By the time the microphone was standing beneath the boars’ heads, all chairs were full. And as the readings proceeded, people came in from the street to sit on the floor and listen. Al and I were not the only Scribd members to come and support our online writing mates. Ali Van Zee whisked through the front doors in time to get the last chair at our table. The evening’s first reader was Helen Winslow Black. She read “Eat, Pray, Drive,” about a road trip she and her five children made from Portland Oregon to the Rocky Mountains.

Being the first to read is always difficult -- trying to capture and hold attention as espresso machines hiss and people jostle for position -- but Helen was up to the task. Tall and slim, with red locks tumbling gracefully past her shoulders, she described the road trip with funny, touching and poignant prose. I’d read Helen’s work (and her comments on the work of others) for more than a year on Scribd. What pleasure to hear her voice breathe life into her words. Kate Garmey read next. I had not seen her work on Scribd, but have checked it out since. She was hilarious, describing her struggle to attract (sometimes avoid) romance in a world where email and chat rooms have replaced face-to-face conversation. Richard W. Humphries followed, reading “Life Among the Lifers, Part One,” from his memoir-in-process, “One Sentence at a Time.”

Richard, who is undergoing chemotherapy, looked cool and confident in his black shirt and soft, gray sport coat. His silver hair and trim white goatee added just the right touch of art-house class. His dramatic reading about life in prison quieted the place. Former New York Times journalist, Laura Novak read a portion of “Finding Clarity,” her debut novel about a mom, a dwarf and a posh private school in the People’s Republic of Berkeley.

In her brown leather jacket, cool glasses and curls, she made me think of Amelia Earhart, as if she was about to take off and soar.

John Wolpert read from his published novel “The Hidden Stage.” Although I had subscribed to John on Scribd, I hadn’t seen any chapters from this young adult adventure story. The passage he read was full of mystery and captivating description.

Hyla Molander read “Pregnant Sex” from her memoir “Drop Dead Life.” Widowed at 29, with a toddler and a baby on the way, Hyla’s intimate reading was both humorous and tragic. The writing we listened to Saturday night was riveting, funny, sad, shocking, warm and truthful. A feast for heart and intellect. We in the audience clapped and cheered. Cameras clicked and flashed. When the readings ended, we who knew each other from Scribd crowded close, talking, laughing, hugging, shaking hands, taking pictures. It felt like a family reunion, full of joy and good news.

We loved the work and we loved each other. Even though most of us were meeting for the first time, it was as if we’d known each other for years. And in a way, we have. We kindred-spirits stood in that happy glow that comes from belonging, from understanding and being understood. Although we work alone and write alone, and revise and rewrite alone, our writing unites us. We are all alone, yet together, in the work. And on Saturday night in San Francisco, we celebrated as one the maddening-magic of creating with words.

(From left) John, Laura, Richard, Ali, Sunny, Helen, Hyla – writers all ###

If you missed the San Francisco readings, you can still enjoy these writers’ work. Helen Winslow Black’s work is posted at Scribd.com and at her website http://www.helenwinslowblack.com Kate Garmey’s work is posted at Scribd.com and at her website
www.disasteronheels.com

Richard W. Humphries’ work is posted at Scribd.com Laura Novak’s work is posted at Scribd.com John Wolpert’s work is posted at Scribd.com and at his website
www.thehiddenstage.com

Hyla Molander’s work is posted at Scribd.com and at her website
www.hylamolander.com

Ali Van Zee’s work is posted at Scribd.com Sunny Lockwood’s work is posted at scribd.com/luddite and at her website www.sunnylockwood.com Sweetheart Al took the group photograph posted here. To see more of his photographic work, go to www.mossbloomstudio.com