It takes a certain maturity of mind to accept that Nature works as steadily in rust as in rose petals. —Esther Warner Dendel
It began when I couldn’t find my diploma.
I had never needed my diploma (BA in English, Sonoma State,1977) because we’d always had enough place mats when entertaining friends. But I needed proof of having graduated in order to apply for a new job.
And I couldn’t find the sucker.
I searched in all the obvious places: in the big desk with the kids’ birth certificates and our passports. In the file folder with insurance policies, pink slips, and our living trust. And finally in the Receptacle of Receptacles: my sock drawer.
Nothing (except socks).
Then it was on to my office closet where I keep my jogging clothes, my work clothes and just about everything I’ve ever written and had published. I didn’t find the diploma, but I found a manuscript there that amazed me. It was 170 pages. It was a typewritten (Smith Corona) novel.
And I had forgotten that I had written it.
How can you forget that you’ve written a book?
I don’t know, but I had.
I pulled the manuscript out of its dusty manila envelope, curious yet feeling dread, and read a few pages. It was a mystery novel called The Jung and the Restless.
It was so stilted and clunky and self-indulgent. But I started a pot of coffee and kept reading and I must admit that toward the end of the book I had greatly improved my typing.
The writing was worse than drunken-pissed-off-late-night-blog-entry-drivel.
Horrendous would have been an improvement: mixed metaphors, unidentified antecedents, dialog that made Hee Haw read like Shakespeare. All the characters talked the same; the plot was linear, convoluted and confusing; character descriptions dragged on-and-on-and-on. The love scenes read like assembly instructions for a porch swing; the murder scene like a recipe for steak-and-kidney pie.
I couldn’t have been prouder.
I wrote a book in 1978!
It sucked like a shop vac and I’d forgotten I’d written it (thank God, wherever She is) but I wrote a book in 1978! Back then I worked two jobs (teaching 3rd grade and waiting tables) was applying to grad schools and interviewing for three-piece-suit-jobs, had three kids, and I knew that all I ever wanted to be was a writer.
And, in retrospect, I was a writer.
I have the ill-written, graceless manuscript to prove it. Never submitted, but finished. Never read by anyone. (Never will be.) The novel is terribly-embarrassingly-bad, but it was the best that I could do at the time. I made time in my life to write it because it was somehow necessary that I write a book. To prove to myself, despite all appearances to the contrary, that I was a writer.
I learned from the mistakes I made in The Jung and the Restless and ultimately improved my craft by continuing to write badly, earnestly, and often.
I don’t think there is any other way.
Like rust and roses, it takes a few decades to realize that life, growth, and creativity are present not only in good writing, but in any necessary writing.
Rob Loughran’s published novels are High Steaks, T.A.P.F.O.S., and Norman Babbit, Scientist. High Steaks won the 2002 New Mystery Award. Check out his books at www.lulu.com\rloughranjokes