Monday, April 14, 2014
What J.D. Salinger Got Right
Media called Salinger hermit and recluse. Clearly he was neither of those as he was constantly seen about the small town near where he lived, took frequent trips to New York and Florida. He wasn't hermiting, he was simply trying to live out the last thread of sane left to him after surviving WWII, and then surviving the crashing success of Catcher in the Rye--the same novel that would be fingered as the reason and justification of three high profile shootings including the murder of John Lennon and the shooting of then President of the US, Ronald Reagan.
It's possible that Salinger decided to withdraw from life in public because he understood his capacity to be a dangerous man if allowed to stew too long in the soup of public pressure. Men and women hunted him down believing he had answers to their chaotic, hopeless lives. He didn't. And he knew it.
It's possible that Salinger's own writing left him with no alternative but to turn his back on the media lest he become entrapped in the same poser culture he railed against in his theology thinly disguised as fiction stories (he was a follower of Vedanta, Hindu philosophy and his stories always preached the tension between body and spirit).
No doubt, Salinger walked a tightrope of being and maintaining his status as public figure and being fully dedicated to writing itself. Pure writing without any distractions.
It's murky and complicated (just like life), but there's one thing that stood out for me, one point where I believe Salinger was right: you can't talk about writing and be a writer. You must write. Only that.
There's a discipline to this, especially in the world of the internet where it is (literally) possible to glean so much information about how to write fiction that you could--in time--present college level courses on the subject and yet not be able to execute any of it.
A writer could, in theory, spend every weekend at one writer's conference after another soaking in so much knowledge he or she might feel a brain burst coming on. But so what if you can't actually do it?
I'm not against writing conferences. If you have a plan and have carefully selected workshops that will actually benefit your writing, and leave the conference with measurable ROI (return on investment), then great. Rare. But great.
Nothing trumps the doing.
Remember that well hashed saying that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill? My husband recently pointed out that I've passed that milestone. I am, according to the hour formula, a master writer. (Can you see me giggling right now?)
What's the singular biggest lesson those 10,000+ hours of writing have taught me?
I can't talk myself into becoming a good writer.
I can only write, and write, and write some more until I find my true self and then write that.