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One of my favorite writers is Phyllis Chesler. Witty, profound, caring for humanity – and honestly, tough at the same time – she brings perspectives that I like to hear. In particular, in the conservative Christian circles I live in, Phyllis brings some nuance to issues we need to hear about (especially with regard to Isla and the abuse of women).
So it is that I recently saw her post on Facebook, discussing the writing life.
Please allow me to quote her at length: “Like actors, writers should never read their own reviews. But oh, how we do. We may ask an intimate to read it first – but then, when they start smiling, we often snatch the review right out of their hands and read it for ourselves right on the spot. I just did this when Publishers Weekly came out with their review of ‘An American Bride in Kabul,’ which is now posted at FB and at my website: www.phyllis-chesler.com.
“But I digress,” she continues. “Many very good things are happening for ‘Bride,’ but I dare not be specific about them; I am far too superstitious for that. The main thing is this: Now, it is in the hands of the world and no longer mine. I miss the act of writing it: reading copiously, taking notes, consulting my own diaries, and then, writing, doing naught but writing, and at some point, early on, writing what became the first line and instantly knowing that it was there, all the time, waiting to be written for more than half a century – now, that’s what I miss. The steady stream of words flowing through my fingers; smoothing, placing and polishing them; yes, wrestling with them too, and with oneself. Am I being objective, fair, interesting, useful, honest about myself and those about whom I am writing? Does this small book sufficiently command the terrain – and yet speak in a personal enough voice?”
Wow, I truly stand in awe of her ability to communicate using written language. Notice the angst of the writing life that she describes: torturous reviews, wondering what others think, watching as a friend reads one’s work! These are all the traits of those tortuous souls known as writers. I always think of the brilliant Paul Greenberg’s description of journalists (the real ones, not those on HLN): “inky wretches.”
Phyllis knows what it is to be an inky wretch, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. For she knows the writing life. The lonely moments when confronted by a blank screen. The doubts. The periods of euphoria followed by crashing depression. All writers are, you see, bipolar.
I once heard a writer say that only the cursed are writers. He was successful, too, by the way. Successful in the way we often think of it: acclaim, money, contracts. He was addressing a gathering of writers, ruminating on the bad and occasionally mentioning the good. I could see throats tightening.
This writer had decided to dwell too much in my view on the downside of writing (rejections, dozens of drafts … poverty). Rather, he should perhaps read Phyllis Chesler’s perspective.
One of the wonderful realities Phyllis Chesler embraces as a writer is the always necessary … hope. One cannot plunge into the dive into the waters of the literary Rubicon and expect to see the other side, unless one is generally optimistic about writing and publishing.
Hear Phyllis again: “Despite everything – people say publishing is dying, standards are plunging, the very world is ending – let me say, right here and now, that my experience with ‘Bride’s’ publisher has been dream-like, everything worked, everyone was kind, efficient, deft, responsive and met their own highest standards. And this dream-like experience continues.”
Lovely. Extraordinary. Necessary.
Let us all, us inky wretches who write in the hopes someone will read, believe that the dream-like experience continues.
I believe it will!