Excerpt from “The Forest For the Trees” by Betsy Lerner

Most writers, like most children, need to tell. The only problem is that much of what they need to tell will provoke the ire of parent-critics, who are determined to tell writer-children what they can and cannot say. Unless you have sufficient ego and feel entitled to tell your story, you will be stymied in your effort to create. You think you can’t write, but perhaps you can’t tell. Writing is nothing if not breaking the silence. The problem is, no one likes a snitch.

On top of this, contemporary critics would have us believe that we are in an age of unparalleled navel-gazing. On the contrary, there is far greater cultural censure in taking one’s pain seriously. As Alice Miller notes in her book Banished Knowledge, “Not to take one’s own suffering seriously, to make light of it or even laugh at it, is considered good manners in our culture. This attitude is even called a virtue, and many people are proud of their lack of sensitivity toward their own fate and above all their own childhood.”

For all the familial anxiety attendant on the publication of a first book, Lerner says she is always struck when she finds that the dedication page is devoted to the author’s parents. Indeed, some of the most damning books about childhood or family life are thus dedicated. Pat Conroy’s unforgettable first novel, The Great Santini, about the abuse a young boy suffers at the hands of his brutal military father, “is dedicated with love and thanks to Frances ‘Peggy’ Conroy, the grandest of mothers and teachers, and to Colonel Donald Conroy, U.S.M.C, Ret., the grandest of fathers and Marine aviators.” Dorothy Allison dedicated her first novel, Bastard Out of Carolina, a horrific story about the abuse of a young girl and her mother’s failure to protect her, to her deceased mother.

Of course, parental approval isn’t the most important thing in the world. One hopes that by the time a person reaches maturity, peer approval, mate approval, and, more important, self-approval, pick up where your parents leave off. But you don’t have to be a Freudian to recognize the impact of parental influence. Our childhood home is our world when we’re young, and within its walls we find safety and comfort or coldness and danger, or, more likely, something in between. We are praised and scolded according to a great many criteria, and we piece together our own little fictions of how and why we are the way we are.

If stories took you far away when you were a child, if characters from books kept you company as you peered out a rainy window and tried to discern that great mystery of how other people live, then you believe that books are the most important things in life. If you were drawn to books, and in turn to writing, chances are you found the world wanting. You knew that a record had to be kept, or the world or you would disappear. People are motivated to write for a variety of reasons, but it’s the child writer who has figured out, early on, that writing is about saving your soul.

Where, after all, does the drama of the gifted child begin but at her own dinner table? The material we continue to grapple with all our lives has more to do with that kid than any grown writer wants to admit. That’s where you were told in any number of spoken and unspoken ways that you were good enough, or not good enough, or too good to be true. That’s where you got the message that you would either go very far or amount to nothing. That’s where you first encountered acceptance or rejection. The messages you received may have enabled you to raise your hand in class, read your story aloud; something told you that people cared about what you had to say. Or perhaps you went underground because you sensed your ideas were shameful or dangerous. Or that you were suspect.

Just as one child takes the message of his glorious future and goes very far, another is paralyzed by the expectation. Likewise, the child who is consistently disparaged may make something of himself, just to show the bastard who called him worthless. Or he may set out on a course of self-destruction, believing himself as unworthy as the adult who crippled his small soul. But more than any emotional Molotov cocktail of abuse and deprivation, or any showers of love and support, Lerner thinks what determines whether the person goes on to become a serious writer is his or her tolerance or love of solitude.

Writing is, most times, a rather lonely profession.

Reference:

Lerner, B. (2010). The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

 

 

 

I Look Foward to a Dialog on This. Please Comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

the poet's billow

a resource for moving poetry

fightorflights

Anxiety & Panic Disorders & Addiction RECOVERY

The Dopamine Queen

Slow Motion Accident - Mental Health Advocate - Crisis Counselor - Bipolar 1

Poetry for the People

Exploring the Ordinary to Find the Extraordinary

From The Darkness Into The Light

love, christ, God, devotionals ,bible studies ,blog, blogging, salvation family,vacations places pictures marriage, , daily devotional, christian fellowship Holy Spirit Evangelists

Caeli's Words

There is always light in the darkness. Poetry and writings by Caeli McKamey to fuel the soul.

My Serene Words

Seeking Solace in the horizon of life & beyond

carly books

I read lots of books, from mythology retellings to literary fiction and I love to reread books from childhood, this is a place to voice my thoughts for fun. I also like to ramble about things such as art or nature every now and again.

Reflections from the Pew

"And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory!" John 1:14

So Brightly Black

Depression, suicide, addiction, recovery, from a literary social worker

Caty’s recovery blog

Hey my name is Caty!❤️ I have been diagnosed with bipolar, depression, anxiety, social anxiety, and fibromyalgia. This is my recovery blog, I hope you enjoyed!❤️

In Gods Service

Following In Faith

The Accidental Apologist

Christ in Post-Christian Culture

We Are Free Indeed

'So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.' John 8:36

Christ-centered ruminations

Here we discuss a variety of issues in light of scripture and experience

%d bloggers like this: