Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Confessions of a Wordsmith

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug”
                                                                                                            Mark Twain

Words, to a wordsmith are like paint to an artist. A skilled author can transport us to another time, make us see what the hero sees, hear what the villain hears, smell what the chef has conjured up. This is not a matter of stringing a bunch of words together; it is selecting the one word, the only word, that will do the job. The truly great wordsmiths accomplish all of this while making it look simple. When I read Mark Twain, it makes me want to sit down and write. It is only then that I come to appreciate what a truly magnificent craftsman he was.

I have just completed a book,  YOGA AND PARKINSON’SDISEASE,  filled with 200 pages of words. My tome is about to hit the stands or more accurately be available on Amazon,  Therefore, bring out the bubbly; it’s time to celebrate.   The simple act of having a book published in 2013 is a genuine event, some would say a miracle. Being an author has always taken a great deal of fortitude. It requires working long hours with little (or even no) pay; it entails endless periods of loneliness, of staring into space while trying to find the right word.

Most of the authors I work with write in spite of the difficulty and frustration because they have some important idea they need to convey and know that they must do this in a beautiful, well-crafted way. They obey the basic rules and pay their literary dues. When they complete a chef d’oeuvre they re-write it many times. They show this work to a tried-and-true writers group for analysis and to chosen literate friends for approval. When the final hurdle has been surmounted, they find an agent who agrees to relay their carefully polished tome to an editor at some prestigious Manhattan publishing house. This was, at one time, the way the noble profession of writing was conducted.

In today’s bizarre book market, being an author is either a valiant act of courage or an absurd act of lunacy. It’s a brave new world when Amazon buys The Washington Post. Journalism and the book trade are forever changed and we are not in Kansas anymore.

Suddenly anyone who can pound a computer key is an author. Today if you have written one blog, then voila, you are a writer. It’s a little disconcerting for those of us who were trained in journalism. In today’s market which is far too equalitarian, anyone can be a writer and everyone is. The new motto is: “I blog; therefore, I am.”

In an insightful article in The New Yorker (March 18, 2013), Adam Gropnik discusses today’s market and income for contemporary authors:

“The future of writing in America—or, at least, the future of making a living by writing—seems in doubt as rarely before. Thanks to the Internet, the disproportion between writerly supply and demand, always tricky, has tipped: anyone can write, and everyone does, and beginners are expected to be the last pure philanthropists....... It has never been easier to be a writer; and it has never been harder to be a professional writer.

Writing used to be a craft; now it’s a tweet! 

I saw signs of this computer-dominated New World Order when I taught writing classes at writers conferences. The questions that beginning writing students asked demanded a universe of “instant gratification,”  lots of luck, and not too much work.  Here are the questions I always got from wannabe authors, along with my answers:

Q: Do you write only when you are in the mood?

A: I‘m usually in the mood. I dislike so much of the promotion, the business, the nonsense, of the writing business, but I love the actual act of writing.
       I keep writing because writing saves my life each and every day. It’s the purest therapy available. I think writing has been my greatest medicine in my battle against Parkinson’s disease.  My first neurologist,  Dr. Paul Gordon, thinks a great passion  can  perform miracles.  During a Skype interview for the book I am about to celebrate, he told me that “some of my PD patients have an unbridled passion that over-rides everything. It makes a big difference!  It helps if there is a goal tied in with this passion." 
      I felt privileged to be cited as one of Paul’s examples. “You’re a good example of how this works --with your books, speeches, and deadlines.  Your mind is in good shape."

Q: You are very funny. How many classes do I have to take before you teach me to be funny?

A: If I could teach people to be funny, my name would be Jehovah and I would be booking acts for “The Daily Show.” Honey, I hate to tell you, but you are either funny or you are not. You can dye your hair but not your personality.

Q: How do you choose a publisher? Do you just call up Random House and tell them you want a minimum of $50,000 for your tome?

A: Wait a minute. You are funny. This bit is hilarious.

Q: Did you start writing because you realized it would be a good way to build a website?

A: I started writing as soon as I could hold a pen! I loved the physical act of putting words together on a page and how they would interact with other words.  Words are my tools and paintbrushes. I love the way words dance, glide, shimmer across the page.
      Making a living as a writer is a constant struggle, but the actual act of writing is a pure joy. It always astonishes me how putting the right words in the perfect sequence can bring so much satisfaction. Words are the music of your soul and your completed opus becomes your symphony!

 Favorite words of admired writers are always bouncing around in my head---Sentences that pop to make the book come alive for me.The ‘ah-ha moment of reading.

To wit:

--When F. Scott Fitzgerald says of Daisy and her husband in “The Great Gatsby:

“.........  They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” 

--Or Ernest Hemingway's perfect line to describe the cynicism of the Lost Generation in “The Sun Also Rises:”

“Oh Jake," Brett said, "We could have had such a damned good time together."
. . ... .........   Yes," I said. "Isn't it pretty to think so?”

---Or a small expression Harper Lee uses in “To Kill a Mockingbird” to describe the deep respect for a man who defies an entire town to do what he feels is right -- Atticus Finch, the last good lawyer in fiction:

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin'.”

As a humor writer, I appreciate the crisp, clear zing of the master, Mark Twain:

“Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
And nobody can make me smile more than one of the great wits
of all time, Oscar Wilde
“He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.”

“I love hearing my relations abused. It is the only thing that makes me put up with them at all. Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven't got the remotest knowledge of how to live nor the smallest instinct about when to die.” 

I also admire the patter rhymes in Gilbert and Sullivan, the cleverness of a Cole Porter tune, the inventiveness of a brand new language in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.

I am constantly searching for the show-stopping sentence that takes my breath away! I like to read them, but I prefer to write them.

So let’s hear it for words, sentences, for paragraphs galore. Let’s celebrate writers and readers, independent book store owners and librarians.   I revere books so I’m thankful for both  Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I applaud quality paperback and E-books. (My book is both)

 The point is I've got a new book coming out and I’m excited!   Cheers!
Peggy's book: Yoga and Parkinson's Disease is being released today, 8/28/13. You can purchase her book on or Collected Works Bookstore.

You can reach Peggy on Facebook or on Twitter at @PeggyvanH