Shelly and I finally got our Christmas present to each other this past weekend. It was four days–well, three and a half days–at the Lighthouse Inn in Rockport, Texas, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. After 38 years of marriage, we still enjoy being with each other more than any other person in the world. And that’s the way it should be. We spent the weekend shopping (not my favorite thing, but bearable when you are with the one you love), walking on the beach, eating seafood, exploring, and generally just kicking around as two 59 year old lovers.
One of the things we did this weekend was watch the video “The Words.” It’s a story within a story within a story, so telling you too much about it might be more complicated that one might think. But one of the stories is of a young writer who moves to New York to write his great novel. He struggles for two years and finally completes it, only to discover that his reach exceeded his grasp. In other words, his writing was good, not great. He wasn’t Hemingway, and chances are, would never be. As he is struggling with this new realization, he finds an unpublished book manuscript that demonstrates a mastery of writing that is everything he wanted his own writing to be.
I won’t ruin the story by telling you what happened next, but suffice it to say that many, if not most, writers struggle with the realization that no matter how hard they try, their writing will never be as good as they wish it would. You put in your 10,000 hours–your million words–and find that still there is something missing. At that point, it’s not likely to be mastery of prose that is missing. It could simply be the fact that you are missing a great story to tell. Or it could be passion. When was the last time you felt really passionate about your writing? Or it could be, as one college professor told me, my “lack of background in the classics.”
At age 59 (I told my wife that we are eligible for early retirement in three months!) I have come to the conclusion that I may never write the Great American Novel. I may never make the New York Times Bestseller List. I may never (I’m pretty sure I won’t) win a Nobel or a Pulitzer Prize. But that’s OK. I have made choices in my life, none of which I regret. I love writing. I also love a woman, enough to take jobs to support her and our family as they grew up, all the while learning what I could about being a better writer. And even though that Nobel or Pulitzer may elude me, I can still write. And that’s what I really love.
It’s all about priorities. I could have turned my back on love and possibly become a world’s famous novelist. But there’s no guarantees I would have been happy.
I do know that I am today.