A fan told Rod Steiger he wanted to be an actor. Steiger told him he never helped anyone who wanted to be an actor, but he would help anyone who had to be an actor.
What we have to do with our lives is imperative, and if we do not dedicate our lives to achieving what we have to do, it will haunt our lives. I’ve known many people who felt they had to act but would not try; they hang around theatres looking very sad and distraught.??When I was eleven years old, I knew I had to write. Becoming a writer was something that did not resonate with me because at eleven I was unaware that people got money for writing. All I knew was that I had to put words on paper every day and tell stories.
So I wrote letters to everyone: my aunts and uncles, my grandmother, my mother, my teachers, the milkman, my friends–anyone within my world. I wish I had known then about letters-to-the-editor; they would have really gotten sick of me.?The need to write continued through my teen years, especially in English classes where I wore out at least four teachers with my incessant pursuit of the best sentences, paragraphs and story lines. Grammar and spelling meant nothing to me because they took away from the joy of putting words on paper. Of course, I eventually learned that grammar and spelling were part of the writer’s journey and became a rapt student. In the end I became a high school English teacher.
However, somewhere around my twenty-first year I made an unwise decision: I got married. Now marriage is wonderful. I’ve been married most of my adult life, and the woman I married at twenty-one was a marvelous person. But I didn’t love her. In a year we were parents of a girl, and there followed in rapid succession three more (two are twins), all girls. So, who can write with four kids, a wife you don’t love and responsibility up the gazazz??I tried to write, but I never completed anything I considered worthy. I didn’t define worthy. I just knew my stuff wasn’t. Of course, I blamed my responsibility of being a husband, a father and a wage earner, which I was not good at. Much later–after a divorce, remarriage, being caregiver to my dying second wife, going through two life-threatening illnesses ,that the reason I didn’t write was because I had not practiced enough. All those past years I concentrated on blaming others for my failure to write and stopped practicing. That’s right, practicing. Writing, editing, re-writing, editing, re-writing, etc., etc. That’s the drill if anything acceptable is created.
Perhaps we are born with a penchant for something, maybe even a talent, but we are not born knowing how to develop it. We gotta practice to become a master. We have to write seven days a week. Doesn’t matter much what we write, but it’s important every day.
Now I’m not talking about writing without paying attention to the craft. It’s like Michael Jordan tossing free throw after free throw when he was the top-rated basketball star in the world. Someone asked him why he did it, surely he must be a master now. “That’s why I’m a master,” he is supposed to have said. Writers have to pay attention to the fine points of the craft–grammar, spelling and such. Then, and maybe most important, concentrate on how your sentences are going together, how the paragraphs are turning out, does the writing flow. ?Mark Twain once said that the secret to writing was to pick a worthy subject, stick to the subject and say what you have to say in as few words as possible. During our practice each day, we must be conscious of words and how they affect us. That’s right, affect us. Our personal relationship with words is critical to our success as writers because when we understand at the personal level, we have a pretty good idea of how words affect other people.
S.I. Hayakawa, the great semanticist who later became a senator from California, said that words effect people based on their personal history with a word. In his book Language in Thought and Action published in 1949, he discusses how a word can relate to a person based on the history of that word in an individual’s life. He told a story of his working in a poor section of Los Angeles teaching street kids English. During his discussion one day he equated God to the father. A lad in the group jumped up and said that if God was a father, he wanted nothing to do with Him. Hayakawa found later that the boy’s father was a monster who beat him regularly. The word father was a obsenity to the boy.
When I read that, I began a life-long study of words and their effect on people generally and on me especially. Now when I write, words are extremely important, and if I don’t write each day, I lose my ability to use words effectively.?So, my secret to writing is practice all the time in any way possible. As Michael Jordan said, practice is why he’s a master.