‘I’VE BEEN WORKIN’ ON MY REWRITE, THAT’S RIGHT.’ AN OPEN LETTER TO A YOUNG FRIEND WHO WANTS TO BE A SCRIBBLER.
#writer #aspiringwriter #artofwriting
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
I really looked at you in that disconcerting way I have.Your eyes, that fleeting look offered nothing less than the first real confession of your young life. And it was nothing less than a revelation and best kept under cerebral lock and key for infrequent reminding.
You saw that picture of me and understood, if only for a minute, that I had once been as young as you are today, as young and determined, fortified by ardor and bold audacity. You saw me… and thought about yourself, as one does. It was no longer my photo on that cover… it was yours and the magic of the photographer’s craft mixed with the total fire power you packed into that glance made for an image to make the indolent world sit up and take notice. You had arrived… you were ready to astonish and awe… you had something to say and the words to say it… and were determined the world should hear it.
And then you heard your so decent, ever practical father say, “Look at the electrical outlets, son. Dr. Lant was just telling me they’re solid gold.”, and he gave one of them a good smart tap reiterating the words to ensure you understood what he’d said. Words per se might mean nothing to your dad, but words that produced the dazzling ostentation of gold electrical outlets were well worth the understanding. The man who could throw away good money on self-indulgent lavishness was a man worth knowing, and that’s a fact. And so I was…
…and so I did what folks blessed with the riches of knowledge must do to justify their existence… they must share, and not just insipid platitudes either, but as much naked, undeniable truth as their youthful auditor can stand, and even more.
For in such a conversation we elders transfer our civilization and learned achievements to the only people who matter at such a time, our successors; the people we must instruct or lose the best of who we are. And so I, notoriously brusque and impatient. resolve to speak to you slowly, with care and thoughtful consideration, but mostly and above all else with the unvarnished truth, so help me, God.
A curriculum for young scribblers, things no one but a successful writer can tell you. Every word in this intimate and necessary epistle between the present and the future which will, and all too soon, be the present some day, is vital. Every word is honest and such may disconcert and even affront you and your painfully young and ill-informed ideas. We must both understand that I know far more than you do; a thought you might not like or even acknowledge…
… this could be construed as arrogance and crippling conceit… on your part. It is certainly insensitive. Still we must both recognize that there is an urgency about our need to understand each other and a deep fear almost palpable, that I (or any writer of my generation) shall forget to tell you something of significance or, worse, that having told you something of such significance, you will not heed it, to the detriment of each generation’s master plan for keeping the whole thing rolling along and of constantly increasing utility and knowledge.
I now take this opportunity to introduce you to another writer, brilliant lyricist, heart touching songster, a master poet, hence meticulous word handler. His name is Paul Simon (born 1947), and if you are round about my age (70 this year) you would have grown up with his shibboleths, whimsies, condescensions, cleverness, never convenient truths, admonitions, larks and bombastic, hummable moralistic rages all just a radio dial away, always master of the searing truth so difficult for so many to see and acknowledge, but critical if we are ever to inhabit the Promised Land, or even find the direction to it, staying thereafter on the adamant and always challenging path.
Simon’s song “Rewrite” (from the 2011 album “So Beautiful Or So What”) should be required reading (and immediately accessible posting) by every writer, aspiring or otherwise. It is about a young writer who confides in the auditor just what his version of the writer’s craft is all about. “Every minute after midnight, all the time I’m spending/ Is just for workin’ on my rewrite, that’s right/ I’m gonna turn it into cash.”
But Simon knows, and we elder statespeople of the writer’s craft know, that Simon’s writer is delusional. He’s not a writer, he is a seeker after big bucks. If he can’t conjure what he needs from “where the father has a breakdown”, he’ll do it by substituting “a car chase and a race across the rooftops/ Where the father saves the children and he holds them in his arms. “This isn’t writing.” master stylist and writing pioneer Truman Capote once sniffed. “It’s typewriting,” that is to say bogus, facile, insincere and superficial.
If you’re destined to be a writer, you must do better, lots better, and I am doing you the favor to tell you what that is.
Memorize the dictionary.
Your writing is laboriously assembled and crafted from the words you know. The more words you know and use, the better and more completely you can render human reality… and, make no mistake about it, that is what all writers do, good, bad, or indifferent. We tell what happens to humans… everything that happens; their struggles, their dreams, their aspirations, their love affairs that end in misery, the ones that end in tears and tribulation, the ones that start in love and end in sublimity and awe.
Every word we master and use enables us to tell the more complete and accurate truth about the reality we know and can, in nuanced measure, describe more accurately once we have the words at our command, when we finally understand what love really is and can do.
We can, we must work to do this because it is only when we have the words that we can even attempt to write the whole truth and nothing but the truth…and, it is only when we have truth that writing transcends the mundane and allows us to approach God who is the embodiment of truth and the ultimate destination of every writer whatever story he tells.
On your dawning love affair with words… and the truth they reveal and convey.
How many words do you know today? To the extent to which you mean to write, the correct answer is “too few, far too few.” This is not merely a fact; it is a declaration of immediate commitment and lifelong purpose. If you mean to write, you must here and now pledge yourself to words, for only then can you succeed in achieving your objective.
Thus, pledge yourself to learning just three new words every day. “Just that?”, you say Yes, just that, which means just this.
Open the dictionary (whether online or off; I use both).
Take a 3″x5″ card and write the word you have decided to embrace.
Put it on your tongue, taste it, savor it with the understanding that if you can incorporate it into your very essence you will be a better person, a smarter person, a person with yet another puissant tool, the better to achieve your objective, and ultimately your grand goal. This is how you craft yourself. This is what you must do to be the world-changing eminence you can become… leaving the rest behind, those who might have been but without such effort they will never be.
Now use the word in a sentence or two. Do not just have the word, employ the word. The actual word and its part of speech should go on one side of the card; its definition on the reverse. These are now your flash cards. Treat them with the importance they deserve.
You have now taken the first step. You have told yourself what you mean to do… and you have begun to do it. Now continue. If this is your avocation, your mission, then do it, and it must become your destiny.
Too often #PaulSimon has come across as sanctimonious, condescending, hectoring, superior, aloof and dismissive, but not in this song or this album, to which I listened with the felicity of an open mind and ear. Now in his late sixties, he sounds like an engaging and completely charming adolescent, and for that I say, ” ‘Thank you/ I’d no idea that you were there’ pleased to meet you’ “. Go to any search engine and listen to him all over again.
Musical Note: I have selected as the music for this piece, Paul Simon’s song “Rewrite (So beautiful or so what).” Click on the link below to listen and if you are a new or aspiring writer, listen carefully and never-ever include a car chase in what you write. It’s the certain sign that you have a long-long way to go before you are entitled to the honorable name of “Writer”.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is well known internationally as the author of over 1000 articles and over 60 books. He is arguably the most well-known author of his generation. He has touched the lives of millions of people worldwide with his inimitable prose style.
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This morning… just moments ago… the world smiled and became a better place….
All of a sudden, I heard my name being called and an excited little fella, full of his news and lookin’ good, flew onto a branch right in front of me. He said, and he jumped up and down as he said it, “I’m back! I’m back! And I know you’re glad to see me!”
I know that’s what he was saying, and he was so energetic, so happy, so ecstatic that I couldn’t help reciprocating. I smiled. I grinned. I laughed aloud.
This was the sure-fire harbinger of spring, and he was letting me know, personally and in no uncertain terms. that he had returned from his winter sojourn… and wasn’t I glad?
Then he sang me just a bit of his trilling tune, just to let me know he hadn’t forgotten how much I like it… and then, with a bow and native civility, suitably spruce for his high business, he flew on, knowing I would understand that he had many more stops to make; where so many people would, in their turn, look up, smile, and be cheered, to go inside and spread the joy. The red, red robin was home, and not a minute too soon.
The world’s most popular bird? A distinct possibility.
The American Robin also called the North American Robin (turdus migratorius) is a migratory songbird of the thrush family. It is named after the European Robin because of its reddish-orange breast, though the two species are not closely related, with the European robin belonging to the
The American Robin is widely distributed throughout North America, wintering south of Canada from Florida to central Mexico and along the Pacific Coast. Three states think so well of this bird and its cheering song — Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin — that they have made it their official bird. It has seven subspecies, but only T.m. confinis, in the southwest, is distinctive, with pale gray-brown underparts.
What child, or adult, too, in the robin’s territory has not seen this completely characteristic sight: our tenacious friend, legs firmly planted, tugging, lugging, pulling worms from the ground? Humans like this purposeful sight; it reminds us robins are just like us: industrious, focused, glad to be up and at their work. Yes, we like that.
The American Robin is active mostly during the day and assembles in large flocks at night. Its diet consists of invertebrates (such as beetle grubs and caterpillars), fruits and berries.
It is one of the earliest bird species to lay eggs, beginning to breed shortly after returning to its summer range from its winter range. Its nest is so well constructed that with necessary refurbishing it lasts for years. Robins know just so how to use long coarse grass, twigs, paper and feathers, all smeared with mud, to give them the look and feel they desire. It is a seasonal delight for us, and perhaps for the robins too, to see them at this work. It gives both satisfaction.
Sadly, robins are not immune from troublesome predators, who see in the well-fed and always well groomed robin, a movable feast, tasty for hawks, squirrels, cats, and larger snakes. When feeding in flocks, robins have developed vigilance and a team approach to danger, which stands them in good stead. The benefits of community work for them… as for us.
A word on robin vocalization
It is the male robins who grab the spot light with their complex and almost continuous sound. This song is called cheerily carol, made up of discrete units, often repeated, and spliced together into a string with brief pauses in between. Robins in different areas have developed regional variations and different delivery times. Artists, they do not like to copy, but enjoy their unique approach to the serious business of song. They sing what they like and render it with style.
Robins in human songs and poems
It seems we humans early became infatuated with robins, who delight in cocking their heads at us, bold, curious, sympathetic to our plight, though we did, for a time, eat them. But they have forgiven us for that lapse in judgement.
Robins feature in literature since at least the 15th century and have attracted notable singers and poets to expound upon their virtues and take off on extended flights of fancy.
The best known of the several songs featuring robins is “When the red, red robin comes bob bob bobbin’ along.” It was the perfect vehicle for the not-quite-yet famous Al Jolson, and he belted it out of the theatre into musical history. Bobby Day in 1958 gave us an entirely different sound in “Rockin’ Robin”; the robins were pleased. They delight in their diverse approaches and are sorry Day is hardly remembered today, though his lively tune is.
Poets, too, write frequently about robins, but not always so upbeat as in song.
William Allingham (1824-1889) is maudlin.
“”Robin, Robin Redbreast,
O Robin dear!
And a crumb of bread for Robin,
His little heart to cheer.”
Robins tell me the pathetic imagery is not to their liking.
They are baffled by Emily Dickinson’s poem “I dreaded that first Robin, so.” (Her dates 1830-1886).
“I dreaded that first Robin so,
But He is mastered now,
I’m accustomed to Him grown,
He hurts a little, though —”
However, they have accepted the human explanation that no one really understands her poetry. And so the matter rests.
One poet, however, and one poem every robin knows, and wishes you to know. It is this resounding truth from William Blake’s (1757-1827) “Auguries of Innocence.”
“A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.”
However, let’s end as we began, with Jolson. He matches the soaring optimism of the robins themselves, all great American voices:
“They’ll be no more sobbin’ when
He starts throbbin’ his old, sweet song.”
And I believe that’s true.
About the author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is well known internationally as the author of over 1000 articles and over 60 books. He is arguably the most well-known author of his generation. He has touched the lives of millions of people worldwide with his inimitable prose style. To see all of his works go to www.drjeffreylant.com.
This is the story of the world’s greatest university, rich, secure, inviolate, invulnerable… arrogant… ripe for the taking.
This is the story of a talented young man, not merely good at lying, deception, prevarication and hoodwinkery… but (though connoisseurs of such matters may cavil) great.
This is the story of a young man so keen to have the good things in life that he was willing to sell his soul to get them… and of parents who so loved their son that they were willing to put him in prison to redeem him.
This is the story of the highest university officials who thought this unthinkable thing could never happen… and who drank deep from the chalice of chagrin and public humiliation when it did.
This is the story of peers who, when forced to confront this tale found that the perpetrator was cute and desirable… and therefore deserving of understanding, absolution, and a date.
This is the tale of Adam B. Wheeler. And I suspect you will find it as riveting as I did for, verily, it is a true tale of our times and, therefore, irresistible and completely appalling. Ole!
Adam B. Wheeler, a boy in a hurry
Adam B. Wheeler, by all accounts, was an average student, neither good nor bad, outstanding in no way, prosaic in all. However, such a boy could dream… and Adam B. Wheeler did so dream… of a place called Cambridge and a college called Harvard, where sport the irresistible jeunesse doree.
Adam dreamt… then despaired… for Harvard looked for the exceptional and Adam was merely average and hence beneath Harvard’s notice.
So this average boy took the first extraordinary decision of his life: he decided to risk all to escape from the usual, the hackneyed, the average, the dull, the prosaic. He decided, in short, to invent the vehicle that would give him escape; he decided to craft himself.
Years later, at Adam’s fraud trial, his lawyer Steven Sussman, Esq. said “There is no answer to why Adam did this. ” But Mr. Sussman, like so many adults involved in this case, was wrong. Sussman has forgotten what it is like to walk high school corridors and be nothing more than one of a mass, faceless, dull, average, forgettable. Adam knew that feeling… and, with growing insistence, was ready to do everything, anything to rise and get out of this situation… to take his place, however wrongly, amongst the best and brightest of his generation. The quickest way to do that, he concluded, was by mastering the potent and practical arts of the fraudulent presentation, prevarication, deception.
And so, Adam B. Wheeler commenced, by diligent study, an ascension of trickery where each step successfully encountered fueled the next. He submitted a plagiarized school essay and winning the prize discovered the ease of deceit, thereby engendering more and greater boldness.
Audacity, he discovered, could be created by successful deceptions, which also delivered a plethora of benefits — money, social recognition, the compliments of teachers and peers, the thrilling feeling that he was “somebody”… and, all important, further insights into how to rise higher still on his new skills and expanding confidence. Adam B. Wheeler was moving… so fast that goals once unimaginable were now within his grasp.
And so he grabbed.
Proud Bowdoin College with its picture-perfect campus gave Adam a place by deceit. But Adam wanted, had always wanted more. For such damnation as he was willing to risk, he demanded the very best.
So, then, fair Harvard’s turn. Adam, now almost through his apprenticeship of deft manipulation, doctored his College Board scores and forged letters of recommendation. These were panegyrics of such transcendence that in a more perfect world they would have moved Harvard to contact him rather than he condescending to contact them.
And so Harvard, confident its summit could not be so breached, became Adam’s trophy, too… and, with its welcome acceptance, gave him, he well knew, life’s ticket to privilege, deference, and open doors everywhere. It was thrilling, heady… dangerous because the very ease and extent of success caused hubris, the most dangerous thing of all.
Adam B. Wheeler became an Icarus with no Daedalus to counsel and advise. But even Icarus, with such a wise and seasoned advisor at hand, was so fueled by arrogance and the certainty that only the young possess, even well-advised Icarus flew too high, too soon, too close to the sun… and so, his wings melting, plunged into death.
What chance, then, had still-learning Adam B. Wheeler to know, so soon in life, the virtue of restraint? Icarus-like, he chose to fly too fast, too high, eschewing restraint because constant victories were so exciting and gratifying…and, he had proved, so easy.
However his fall, inevitable though he never knew it, was, in the classical tradition, sharp, painful, ironic. Continuing to want the best, he fabricated a fake straight A Harvard transcript and aimed to grab a Fulbright or even a Rhodes scholarship, much desired, achieved by only the elite, amongst whom he insisted to be.
However, grinning fate was at hand with Adam’s nemesis.
It was his parents, the good, decent, profoundly appalled creators of Adam B. Wheeler, his mom and dad. To save him, they laid him low, beginning his unravelling with a call to the chagrined Harvard officials whose certainty and carelessness had moved Adam so appreciably forward. They, powered by revenge and sanctimonious moralizing, happily pounced, determined to end his career and make sure This Could Never Happen Again. His Harvard status was rescinded… his trial ensued. His conviction inevitable, he plea-bargained, admitting culpability and accepting restitution for all funds and prizes falsely won. Prison was avoided but shame was not. It was the end of Adam B. Wheeler.
Or was it?
In the blog of the Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, another stream was unexpectedly running. Here the story took another turn, for many bloggers (not just women either) saw what “Daniel” saw: “He really is totally adorable. He probably gets away with half of his shenanigans because people look into those big blue eyes and see the floppy hair and think he’s adorable”. Ah, too fetching to be guilty, much less locked away.
It was, under these circumstances, no doubt wise of the judge in his sentencing order of December 16, 2010 to prevent Adam from enjoying any financial gains from his story from books, stage, and screen. It’s sad, though, for local boy-made-good Matt Damon, who would have done full justice to this tale of Cambridge, a place he knows so well. However, no doubt in due time, Adam B. Wheeler will find a way around this (temporary) obstacle. I hope so, for I long to see this film.
I have selected for the music to this chapter, Scott Joplin’s pep machine, “Maple Leaf Rag” (1899). Pull your hat over your head, go get your best gal, come on down to the court house, where they’re playing the “Maple Leaf Rag” and waiting for Adam B. Wheeler to come in from the hoosegow, and flash them baby blues at you. Oh lordy!