Sunday, May 13, 2012

Writer, Know Thyself

Many of those who endeavor to bend the written word to their will can seem an odd lot; witness Roger Rosenblatt’s essay in the May 13 issue of The New York Times Book Review.

The reason for such eccentricity may well be that -- as someone whose name I wish I could remember noted recently -- “there’s no overestimating the self-absorption of a writer.”

Rosenblatt is a fiction writer, the literary category most readily evoked in people’s minds when they hear someone referred to as a writer. And, when one thinks about it historically, most of the authors’ names that pop into your head in connection with the phrase “odd lot” are -- almost to a man/woman -- fiction writers (or poets).

We bloggers, essayists, and even writers of learned tomes are rarely so tagged, even though perhaps equally deserving.

But all writers have to recognize themselves in the following anecdote from Rosenblatt’s essay:

“One morning at breakfast, when she was in the first or second grade, E. L. Doctorow’s daughter, Caroline, asked her father to write a note explaining her absence from school, due to a cold, the previous day. Doctorow began, “My daughter, Caroline. . . . ” He stopped. “Of course she’s my daughter,” he said to himself. “Who else would be writing a note for her?” He began again. “Please excuse Caroline Doctorow. . . . ” He stopped again. “Why do I have to beg and plead for her?” he said. “She had a virus. She didn’t commit a crime!” On he went, note after failed note, until a pile of crumpled pages lay at his feet. Finally, his wife, Helen, said, “I can’t take this anymore,” penned a perfect note and sent Caroline off to school. Doctorow concluded: “Writing is very difficult, especially in the short form.”

Any writer –- actual or aspiring –- who wouldn’t have had an equal or greater pile of crumpled pages at his feet under similar circumstances is unsuited to the calling and had best seek another line of work.


  1. Thank you. I feel so much better now. All those trees I destroy trying to make a simple statement is a abysmal thought. Perhaps I AM normal (at least in some respects).

  2. is not "a" abysmal thought....rather, "an" abysmal thought!