Sunday, March 25, 2012

i have a problem here

I have a problem. Well, actually, I have two problems--two problems that I think might be unique to aspiring writers.

In the first place, I don't devote as much time to reading as I know I should. Which is why I took four books with me to Africa...anticipating thirty-some hours strapped into my seat without dogs to walk, meals to prepare, beds to make, or laundry to wash. And because the stewardess wasn't interested in my offer to help serve the beverages, or plump pillows, or even scour the lavoratory...I read. On the flight to Africa I read "Dead Aid":

In this book, the author discusses the reasons that international aid to Africa has failed...why billions of dollars have made so little difference there, having to do with the financial markets, political corruption, and, among other abuses, personal greed:

"After his meeting with President Reagan, Zaire's President Mobuto Sese Seko had asked for easier terms to service the country's US$5 billion debt; he then promptly leased the Concorde to fly his daughter to her wedding on the Ivory Coast."


And what qualifies the author, Dambisa Moyo, to comment with such authority on the matter? Well, to begin with she is an African woman with a master's degree in from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and a Ph. economics from Oxford University. Her thoughts only served to fuel my personal misgivings about our mission in Lobosoit.

So for a little comic relief, I turned to "It's Kind of a Funny Story" by Ned Vizzini,

and pondered how the author managed to relate the descent into suicidal depression with a sense of humor!

Once we arrived at our destination, though, I was kept too busy to pick up a book. For the first stormy week, living in a tent, it was all I could do to keep the books dry for future reference. But once I was strapped back into my seat for the flight home, I had time to read again. This time I selected Elizabeth Berg's novel, "Once Upon a Time, There Was You."

Herein lies the second problem. Envy.

Like most people, I have a couple of favorite authors--Berg, Ann Patchett, Anne Lamott, Anna Quindlen, and Martha Beck, to name a few. Most people can read a book for enjoyment, to acquire knowledge, for the vicarious thrill of it, or for the humor in it. But when I read a book I love...I get jealous. I underline lines that never would have occurred to me to write but I know are true. I draw little smiley faces next to beautiful metaphors. I write down words whose meaning escapes me. And after all that, I am left to fret...because I long to write beautifully. I struggle to come up with startingly fresh similes and metaphors. I strive to distill meaning out of life, and to offer it up on the page...the way my favorite writers do. It's discouraging. Sometimes I want to give up on writing. Sometimes I give up on reading. I mean, why torture yourself?

Do you have this problem? Do ever find yourself so discouraged by the talent and success of other writers that you stop writing? That you stop reading?
"When on the brink of complete discouragement,
 success is discerning that
 the line between failure and success is so fine
that often a single extra effort is all that is needed
 to bring victory out of defeat."
--Elbert Hubbard--
This week I'll continue to post about my trip to Tanzania in "Cherished Illusions" at while I gear up for the A to Z Challenge in April.


  1. Nope...I just soak up everything they have penned, let it gel and ferement and hope that someday the words and thoughts will rebirth themselves in my own form of expression.

  2. I also jot down phrases other authors use in a spiral notebook I use for just that. I read through it whenever I'm working on a new project and hope it helps me be more creative in my own phrasing. But I do get envious. I guess I try to work harder in the hope I'll someday write so beautifully.

  3. Thanks for visiting, Jan! I'm following your blog now, and man, I love your dog.

    I do occasionally get overwhelmed by the talent of my favorite authors, writers like Cormac McCarthy, and Andrew Smith, but I do keep reading, and I try to be inspired by such wonderful use of language.

  4. Thanks, Matt. If my dog doesn't soon stop chasing deer, she may find herself on the open market...