I’m still thinking about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel this year for Literature, and my previously caustic attitude toward his being so honored has been softening. Nobels are normally capstones to careers, and much as I’d like to think Dylan will keep on writing his genre-busting, earth-shaking lyrics and songs, I think that at age 75 he’s edging toward a well deserved retirement.
Too, if I may be so presumptuous as to imagine his thinking upon hearing about the award, his mind surely turned back to the 1950s and how it all started for him. How in the world, he likely wondered, did I step into this long, strange trip of songwriting?
And so I think I’ll re-post an earlier entry of mine on that subject, one that may help explain further the how and why of some muse or other picking us out of the crowd to play the part of writer (it doesn’t escape me that we are both Bobbys). My presumptuousness, though, ends quickly. He’s dashed off pieces that seem universal, touching the hearts of millions, and I, well, I’ve lit a candle of lesser flame. Still, I’m betting we both started from the same innocent impulses.
Do you remember the day you became a writer? No? Good answer!
Then you have, as I have, realized that perhaps you were born to writing, and you’ve been involved in that creative field since you became you. But maybe, as you tried other creative endeavors, such as music, art, or drama, writing lay dormant underneath, somehow adapting to fit those creative fields and waiting to come to full bloom.
The first time I cast the others aside and embraced writing, I was a tender eight years old. At first we creative types tend to emulate the writing of others. I wrote (actually I dictated it to Mom, who wrote it down in her precise handwriting, correcting my grammar as she went) a story I called “Peter and the Golden Cave.” It was a blatant ripoff of an Arabian folk tale most American kids have read, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” But my imitative bent was all right; it was part of a process only just beginning.
And then there was the necessary development of imagination. After all, how can you devise a story without being hard-wired with things imaginative? As in:
“Look, Ma, that tree looks like a pickup truck.”
And her blasé reaction to my ongoing litany: “That’s fine, Bobby.”
“Why are you looking at your dinner plate, son?”
“I was mopping up gravy with my bread, Daddy, and look, there’s a five in it.”
He looked, and sure enough, I’d accidentally formed a perfect “5” on my plate.
These things together – imitation and imagination (like hydrogen and oxygen; when subjected to a spark they form water) when subjected to the innate spark of the will to express, form story. Or poem. Or song. You get the picture.
Then with these things boiling within, you decide, “I want to write stories. Real, quality stories.” And this is where your true apprenticeship begins: Some say it takes a decade of serious writing, workshopping, and editing, to learn the craft and become competitive with other, established writers. I would say that a decade is fast-track. Make it fifteen or twenty in many cases.
So you see that at each step within you, from imitation to imagination to the long years of learning the craft as you write, you are a writer. No, that’s not right; at each of these steps you’re becoming a writer, for there’s never been a complete writer nor a perfect piece of writing. It’s a process that you commit to over a lifetime. So there’s never a time when you aren’t a writer. And there’s never a time when you aren’t reaching out to make your craft -and you – fulfilled as a writer.
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