Gore Vidal wrote that writers are born with a repertory company in their heads. As a writer grows older, he or she become more skilful at casting this company.
He went on to say Shakespeare started off with twenty characters, whereas Vidal himself only started with ten.
I question the assertion that we came into this world with access to characters written into our DNA, or the belief that we are born to be one thing or another – writers included.
Storytelling, of which writing is just one example, is a skill that people learn early in life. I remember the absolute delight we had when granddaughter Emma told her first story. We had been out for a walk before Halloween (she was not quite two), and we stopped to look at some spooky decorations on one of the houses. When we got back to her house, her dad had just driven up. She looked at him with eyes as wide as saucers and said, “Spooky house.”
A storyteller is born when the understanding of how to string words together in order to share an experience occurs. Being able to represent those stories with a set of arbitrary characters that represent a written language will come later.
There are stories in us that beg to be told. A shared story is a gift – for the teller and the listener. What else were parents trying to do over and over but elicit a story, when they asked, “What did you do at school today?” How many breathless teen conversations begin with the words, “You’ll never guess what happened.” Here comes a story. We sit across from our spouse and say, “How was your day?” What we’re truly saying is tell me a story, invite me into your world.
Like any skill worth acquiring, honing the art of representing stories in written form is hard work. A talent one will spend a lifetime working at and even then it won’t have been enough time. I don’t imagine many writers come to the end and think, “Well, at least I’m leaving this world having perfected the craft of writing.”
This is my third post in a row on the writing life – give the reader the best that is in you; if you know a writer – give them the support they need; and today’s message – don’t give up. What you are trying to master, as a writer, is no less than the vital work of informing civilization. Like all art, writers tell the stories that allow others to make sense of the world.
Have you ever heard the saying – the first book a writer writes is the story they need to tell. I assume the point here is that once the writer is free of that burden, he or she can go on to greatness. I disagree with that premise. The story you need to write is the story someone needs to read. Just as the message of this post is what I need to tell and simultaneously it is a message someone else needs to hear.
My writer’s manifesto – do your best, get support, and don’t give up. Never doubt that what you do matters.
(This picture was taken in the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland, Oregon)