I have a serious case of writer envy. Stephen King, Ann Lamott, Ian Frazier, Anita Diamant, Deborah Larsen. A stream-of-consciousness list of contemporary authors that spans genres and topics. Envy emerges in me because I want to be like someone, look like someone, or have something someone has – the list could go on forever- because there is something admirable that I want. What I admire in writers and what I desire to have for myself are the skillful choice of words, use of phrasing, and the uncanny ability to see marvelous events in ordinary happenings.
I first feel admiration, then envy, when I encounter a choice of words that strikes an instant image in my mind. In Deborah Larsen’s book, The Tulip and the Pope, she describes the hair-cutting scene in The Nun’s Story with “the shears had blades that looked long and sharp and competent, and Sister Lukes’/AudeyHepburn’s locks were thick and dark and were cut away in clumps so solid that they almost thumped when they landed on the tray.” Wow. Competent blades. Clumps of hair so solid they thumped when they landed. The picture in my mind and the accompanying sound effects put me right there in the cutting room.
Stephen King’s phrasing keeps me turning one page after another. It’s as though he is talking to me, right here, in my office or wherever I am reading. In his book On Writing, he describes the writing room an author needs to establish. “Your writing room doesn’t have to sport a Playboy Philosophy decor, and you don’t need an Early American rolltop desk in which to house your writing implements. I wrote my first two published novels, Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot, in the laundry room of a doubleside trailer, pounding away on my wife’s portable Olivetti typewriter and balancing a child’s desk on my thighs…The space can be humble (probably should be, as I think I have already suggested), and it really needs only one thing: a door which you are willing to shut.” I love the way his advice leads up to the shut door, although I have to admit I would change his “which” to a “that.” (My apologies, Mr. King!)
When Ann Lamott describes how a typical writing session goes, she doesn’t say something common like “writing takes dedication and persistence;” she takes a task that millions of authors face and gives us a glimpse into her mind as she writes. “This is how it works for me: I sit down in the morning and read the work I did the day before. And then I wool-gather, staring at the blank page or off into space. I imagine my characters, and let myself daydream about them. A movie begins to play in my head, with emotion pulsing underneath it, and I stare at it in a trancelike state, until words bounce around together and form a sentence. Then I do the menial work of getting it down on paper, because I’m the designated typist…”
My envy is pretty benign- I don’t wish harm or failure on the authors I cited – and it gives me an opportunity to improve my own writing. As I look back on the writing samples in this post, I realize I have created an “Aha” moment. By identifying what I envy, I have given myself models of writing so I can move from being a “have not” of writing and move closer to possessing some of the have’s of writing. For once I took my own advice.