Monday, May 09, 2005

A Writer's Angst

In the movie Amadeus, composer Antonio Salieri is shown with a sheet of music in his hand, written by Mozart. He marvels because there are no corrections on the complicated score. Then he becomes envious and eventually plots to get his competitor, Mozart, out of his way.

Salieri had worked his way into a comfortable career position and no doubt felt threatened by Mozart. Eventually, he tried to destroy himself because in his own mind, he was a mediocre talent, while Mozart was a genius. (In the real world, Salieri was a very good composer, not at all mediocre. He was just not as prolific or remembered as well as Mozart.)

So far on this blog I have discussed two very good writers. They are contemporaries with whom I have had some contact. One in particular, Wendell Berry, is like Mozart to my Salieri. Well, maybe he is Mozart to my Spike Jones, but I am not going to destroy myself because Wendell is one of America’s finest writers; I am going to use his work as a goal. Nevertheless, Wendell’s genius adds to the angst I feel as an aspiring wordsmith.

Getting myself in gear to write is the biggest source of angst. Most writers have this problem at one time or another. I have lots of other things to do and ignoring my writing by accomplishing something in another field gives temporary relief.

There are other sources of my angst. One occurs when I try to design a plot. I am not handy with plots even though they are extremely important for a written, commercial work. Possessing an engineering nature, I do not take a lot of detours on my way to the denoument of a story.

I want to write beautifully with unforgettable imagery but at the same time I want to be efficient with words. Poets can do this; it is their art. For me, achieving these twin goals is the same as wanting sleeves in my vest. I am not a poet.

My angst ranges wide for lots of other reasons. I have a feeling it has found a permanent home. What am I going to do about it? I am going to write. Then I am going to read good authors and then write some more. I am going to send my brothers-in-law emails that describe something awkward or abstract, just to see if I can get a difficult idea across to him. They have PhDs. Let them use their educations. The exercise will do them good.

The worst part is that I care when my work is bland and unimaginative or misses the point I am trying to make. I love it when I have constructed a well-turned phrase. I hate it when I do not.

Having been a contributing editor for a magazine, I am already one of those who can claim partial professional status as a writer. The Wall Street Journal has published my rather lengthy letters, and I have a several books on the market that have netted a few dollars. Yet, I am not fooled: Wendell Berry and Hunter S. Thompson are much better authors than I, at the moment.

Everybody needs a goal.

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