New Writing Lesson for an Old Dog

At 50, and about 25 years into this accidental author thing (cheesehead farm boy with a nursing degree stumbles into typing), I lately find myself regularly revisiting–both in life and in writing–how best to navigate whatever time remains. In fact, I was noodling on this idea in a recent newspaper column:

Having crossed the 50-year yard line, I’m as susceptible as the next person to fond reminiscence and the temptations of revisitation and regurgitation as a substitute for facing the future. Or encouraging the future. My demeanor is a perpetual minute-by-minute work in progress, but one of the things I’ve really been focusing on lately is the way folks seem to take one of two turns as they age: some dig their heels in and make themselves as wide as possible so as to hold back the tide; others keep moving forward while re-energizing themselves on the power of the young and the new. Somewhere in there is the balance, and I’m nowhere near to achieving it, but lately am leaning toward the second path. And for the record, I am talking about trying new thoughts and ideas as opposed to getting a sporty car or a new hairstyle. Regarding the former, I prefer old pickups; regarding the latter, the options just aren’t there.

It is popular to impugn social media as a low-culture time-suck, and I’m a guy who’s watched a few slo-mo puke GIFs in his time, but our interconnected electronic world is also a glorious thicket of tangents often leading to enlightenment. That is for a much longer essay, but in short we are led to learn things we need to learn, even if by accident, and we learn them from people that in another life and time we would have never come to know.

I’ve never met Daniel José Older. As I recall someone sent me to his Twitter feed because we’re both writers with backgrounds in EMS. We’ve shared a few brief electronic exchanges but beyond that he’s working at his thing and I’m working at mine. He’s a young writer coming on strong, and I couldn’t be happier for him when he gets another bit of good publishing news. But I’m also grateful for a world in which I can reside in rural Wisconsin and take lessons–cultural and professional–from a man in Brooklyn. For instance, this video led to me changing the way I approached the italicization of non-English words in The Jesus Cow and all books to follow.

School was in session again today, when Daniel wrote about writing and self-discipline. As a self-employed freelancer with kids to feed, I am definitely of the “put-your-ass-in-the-chair” school. (OK, the put-yer-tennies-on-the-treadmill school). I love (and live for) the mystery, the magic, the spirituality, and the transcendence of the creative process, but I am also a flat-out matter of fact blue-collar clodhopper: you wanna be a writer, you write. Every day.

And then I read this. And I say, y’know what? Daniel José Older is right.

This weekend I’ll be speaking at a writers conference. The “how do you write?” question will be a given. As of this morning, I’m working up a fresh answer. No big revolution. Just moving forward. Re-energizing myself on the power of the young and the new.

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