Tropical Wisdom

palm treesI have shoveled the driveway five times in the past seven days. This morning was number five. Another round of ‘wintry mix’ is headed this way for Wednesday into Thursday. That will be six or seven or maybe even eight. Somewhere between the mailbox and the front door, it occurred to me that it has been exactly a month since I was in Key West complaining about how loud the air conditioner was at night and wondering why I had only packed one pair of shorts.

The Key West Literary Seminar is what took me to The End. I have put off writing about my adventure down the Overseas Highway it in part because I wanted to keep it to myself–the deep, dark secret handshake of the San Carlos Institute on Duval. But today, while I swore oaths at the snow gods and shoveled and swore and shoveled and swore some more, I decided to share some of the tropical and topical wisdom I gained during my time in the Conch Republic.

Good writing is the result of the hard work of writing. A lot.

Scott Turow addressed this issue head-on. He was talking about ‘the writing life’ and the people who spend more time talking about writing and drinking coffee or whiskey with other people who like to talk about writing more than doing much actual writing. “If you write,” he said. “You are a writer. If you don’t, you’re not.” Hanging out at Grumpy’s in Brooklyn or a Starbucks in Santa Monica with a latte and a laptop doesn’t  make you a writer. Words on the page. Day after day. That’s what it takes.

Earth shattering? No. Comforting? Oddly, yes. Hard work I can do, even if it doesn’t always pay off.

Not thinking you are good enough is the only thing that makes you better.

I’m paraphrasing Carl Hiaasen here. As someone who aspires to write funny, satirical fiction it means a lot when someone you admire openly admits to fears and insecurities. Camille Paglia said something once about no great art coming from people with high self-esteem. And knowing that Hiaasen worries that people won’t find the humor in his writing, it gives mere mortals like me hope.

High school is a noir thriller. Law school is mean on purpose. And just living to tell the tale can help your fiction.

Megan Abbott asked, “What is more noir than high school?” It is the time when you are the most curious about the world and your place in it and when your illusions start to be shattered.

Law school, Turow said, is a challenge to the identity of the students. You find that your very identity is transformed, often “without your consent.”

I made it through both, admittedly more scathed than unscathed, but, as Stephen L. Carter explained, it makes me question things and ask, what if? What if that one fact was changed? What if that character made a different decision? What if the story was told from someone else’s point of view?

Finally, this:

“Nobody starts out smart. That’s why we read books.” — James W. Hall