Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On Writers and Writing

Bess Streeter Aldrich was a Nebraska writer in the first half of the twentieth century. I have mentioned her before in connection with Christmas: her Depression-era Christmas works remain among my favorite for both holiday and Depression-era short stories.

Bess supposedly sold every short story she ever wrote, as well as numerous articles and several novels. That's an impressive record. All the same, she was far better known in her community as a wife, mother, and active volunteer, rather than as a writer. Her husband died in 1925, only 18 years into their marriage, leaving her with four children and her pen as her primary means of support. College educated herself, Bess put all four children through school on the strength of her writing.

Recently I read two collections of her short stories, the first from 1907 to 1919, the second from 1920 to 1954. I soon learned that she had several stock formulas that she rotated through for many of her stories. Others, however, were one of a kind gems that still sparkle all these years later.

Included in the collection was an interview with Bess, in which she spoke humorously of writing out sentences with one hand while ironing with the other. Whatever privations her widowhood may have thrust upon her, she focused on the positive qualities of life not only in the interview but also in her works.

In the same interview, Bess spoke about people who claimed they wanted to be writers but somehow "just couldn't find the time" in which to write. She felt strongly that no matter how busy  a person was, that person always managed to make time for what was important to him or her. If you said you wanted to be a writer and weren't writing because you were "too busy," then in her opinion you didn't really want to be a writer.

So what does it say about me that I go far too long without writing? (Or at least writing for this blog, because in many ways I indeed make my living through writing.) Do I not want it enough? Or, to rely on a later Nebraskan I also admire, therapist/author Mary Pipher, do I not write because our modern world has changed our daily rhythms and lifestyle so much that I often struggle merely to cut through the mental noise and clutter of the world, let alone write?

Bess would laugh at that, I am sure, and remind me that she wrote while rocking a cradle or darning a sock. True, but she didn't write while juggling emails or cell phones along with darning the sock or rocking the cradle. Pipher speaks of Aldrich's era as a time when lives "were busy, but not hurried." Too many times my life is busy and hurried, which is a fundamental step in the wrong way.

I often write about my schedule and busyness and my frustration when I let the bustle and rush of the world take over my personal space. It is so hard sometimes to let the email rest until the morning, to set aside the pressing but not urgent folder from the court. I need to respect my time and learn to set aside the time in which to write. I need to learn and relearn that respect until it is engrained in my fingers and my heart.

As a way of teaching myself, I have lately taken to writing from prompts. My favorite source (and I dearly wish Elizabeth would post a new one!) has been those at quotesnack. Like drumming, writing prompts jumpstart my heart and my soul. They are writing snacks: quick, light, easy.

I think Bess, who once wrote of a character that "earth held no sorrow that food could not heal," would approve.


Jackie said...

April, it always seems like you write about things I've been thinking about. This very topic of making time to write has been in the forefront of my mind lately. I say I want to write (other than my blog) yet I find myself writing about how I decorate my house on my blog instead of putting pen to paper and writing about what I really want to focus on. I'm going to explore prompts and find some writings by Aldrich. Thanks for the food for thought...once again. Have a great night.

Sharon said...

I yearn for my childhood days when there was no such thing as cell phones, computers, and other devices that steal away our minds and time.

(I say that as I'm typing on a laptop now...)

Actually my blog is the time I spend writing. It's great practice, but I would love to check out the writing prompts to see just how I would do..

Your writing is incredible, April, and I can see that you enjoy it.

Find the time to write more...you won't be sorry, I'm sure.