November 18, 2019

Monday, November 18


   There are times in life when we get started on a task only to find that we don’t know where to go from where we have landed.

    Possibly you’re writing a book, and halfway through you find yourself lost. 

    Perhaps you’re painting your living room, and you realize the color and you are mismatched. 

    Or maybe you are in a relationship, and you discover –– well, invariably, in relationships, you discover one revelation or another, so I won’t go there. But you get my drift. 

   Even great writers get lost. Some years ago, one writer, Janet Malcolm, was assigned to write a story about a famed artist, David Salle, for the New Yorker. She started, stopped, started, stopped, started, stopped, and started and stopped. After 41 tries, she realized she had written the story of David Salle’s life without ever getting past the lede. 

   That’s what I want you to try this week. Because my November writing workshop is reading the fundamental, profound work of story structure, Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” which addresses, among other topics, rites of passage, I want you to pick your own rite of passage. 

   Then I want you to use Janet Malcolm’s “41 False Starts” as a guide to write your own essay on your rite of passage. 

   Here’s an example. You decide to write about the day you first left your home to embark on an adventure: college, a job in a new location, a love affair far away. That qualifies nicely as a rite of passage, a major life change that affects your perspective and encourages you – aye, often forces you – to grow in your humanity. Try writing the first paragraphs a certain way, perhaps describing, on the day of departure, your house, a parent’s face, the way the wind whipped at you as though you’d been cursed with the punishment of 40 lashes, pain and tears and blood and bitter cold scrawling a map of misery on your face. 

   Then try writing another few paragraphs focusing, maybe, on how you felt. Or how your ride was honking the horn as you tried to hug everybody a second time. 

    Then try talking about the days leading up to your decision. 

    Then on what you were seeing as the road ahead. 

    And so on. Remember, each time you step away from the lede you’ve written, you have to push yourself to come up with a new perspective. A new lede.

    It’s work. Good, honest writing work. 

   As always, have fun with this. And when you are done, read your work to a loved one, your cat, dog, hamster, your microwave, the universe. If you are a Candlelighter, send it to me. You may not hear back from me, but know I have read it.