Sunday, September 14, 2008

Lessons from Other Writers

California has always been a Mecca for writers. Throughout the last century, many writers lived, wrote, and made their mark on literature here.

With such rich writing history in my backyard, I undertook a quest to learn more about two writers who lived and worked here, Eugene O’Neill and Jack London: what inspired them, what compelled them to write, what convinced them to keep writing.

Eugene O’Neill lived in the Las Trampas foothills with his wife and wrote many works by hand. One of his most famous plays, "Long Day’s Journey Into Night", is an autobiographical account of his early life and the dysfunctional dynamics of his family. He was reclusive, alcoholic, moody, depressed, and compulsive. His personal life was a mess; his relationship with his wife was uneasy, he was estranged from his daughter, and his son committed suicide.

And he wrote every day.

O’Neill locked himself away in his office and let no one disturb him until he felt he had finished work for the day. There were three doors leading to his office and if any of the doors were closed, his wife and staff went no further. (Wouldn’t that be kids never let a closed door keep them from interrupting!)

Jack London lived on a farm in Sonoma. His novel, "Call of the Wild", has never been out of print, and is required reading in middle schools all over the United States. He was a gregarious and frequent host, a frustrated organic farmer, and partied constantly, drinking and eating fattening food to excess. He had friends from all walks of life, a loving wife who managed the farm and household, and an excellent relationship with his step-son. He also had a disease that eventually killed him at the age of forty.

And he wrote every day.

Jack London had a rule: he wrote 1000 words a day before he was allowed any contact with friends, family, whoever. He worked everywhere...his office, outside on a tree stump, the swimming pond on his property, and even when he traveled. No matter where he was or how late he stayed up the previous night, he wrote one thousand words every morning.
On the surface these two men were diametrically different. Yet, they both wrote works that continue to endure.

And they both wrote every day.

I came away from my mini-quest committed to using their inspiration for my own writing process. Since visiting their homes, I strive to write every day. Is it hard? Sometimes. We all have other responsibilities: jobs, children, parents, bills. But it’s imperative we practice responsibility to ourselves--to our creativity--as well.

Sometimes writing merely means searching the web for research articles. Sometimes it’s reading a how-to article or book. Sometimes it’s only a few words, maybe an emotion or feeling I’m trying to capture. Sometimes, it’s an outpouring of scenes and scenes and scenes. Sometimes, it’s editing a page, sometimes it’s layering in details for a chapter.

Whatever I do, I write every day.

Am I destined to be the next O’Neill or London? No. Nor do I want to be. I want to be me. A writer who reveres the beauty and the mystery and sheer giddiness of two people falling and being in love. A writer who lauds the commitment and dedication of celebrating life with a partner. A writer who believes in the power of being happy.

Because of the example of these two very different writers, I began to honor my writing and my process every day. You can too. One day at a time.

For further information on visiting either of these National Park sites: