Can ordinary people become great writers? The Authors Collection
May 23, 2015
ALMOST ALL WRITERS I read about say they knew they were going to write along about Kindergarten time. Not me. I didn’t write seriously until deep into middle age. And when I began, I didn’t really think of myself as a writer. Writers were weird.
Parents with the best of intentions tell their kids they can be whatever they want to be. My daddy used to say, “Son, there’s no such word as can’t.” I owe him a debt of gratitude for that. But the truth is, we sometimes really can’t become what we most want to be. I could not be a pro athlete like I dreamed. Just didn’t have the body or the skills, not matter how long I practiced.
But we can make the best use of the talents and physical skills God gave us.
I once had a unique opportunity to get to know a well-known motivational speaker and author. In a rare one-on-one conversation, I found the courage to make an admission. “After reading books, attending seminars, and listening to motivational tapes for years, I have come to the conclusion that this feel-good rhetoric just does not work for me.” He asked why and I answered, “I’m just an average guy with realistic expectations for myself. The rah-rah stuff is just not me.”
He answered, “But don’t you see? Being ordinary is a gift. You know what ordinary people want, need, understand and enjoy because you are one of them. You can communicate with ordinary people by the written and spoken word because your language is their language.”
Still, who wants to be called ordinary or mediocre? But it did get me to thinking. Twenty years before my first book, I began keeping a journal, then making notes about ideas and recollections that came to mind. Writing them down brought a veritable onslaught of memories from the deep recesses of my mind. And I somehow knew that those memories must not be dropped back into the grave of forgotten moments in time.
In a recent issue of Writer’s Digest magazine, acclaimed author Brad Meltzer says his core belief is that ordinary people change the world.
A book you write may not change the world, but it’s almost guaranteed to change you. By writing, you can relate your own misgivings, doubts, and how achieving a purpose is a lifelong journey that may not happen in the order we want it to. In my book, A River of Stories, I quote Frederick Buechner, . . . “a book you write, like a dream you dream, can have more healing and truth and wisdom in it (at least for yourself) than you feel in any way responsible for.”
Ordinary people can be writers. In fact, well-adjusted people should write more books. I think there should be more memoirs about good parents and handling the blessings as well as the tragedies of life.
Boring you say? Nonsense. What’s more interesting than to reach into the lives of ordinary people placed in extraordinary situations? Brad Meltzer, in that same article, said, “I have no interest in the great person, I have interest in the regular person who finds that great moment within himself.”
Anton Chekhov said, “Any idiot can face a crisis—it is this day-to-day living that wears you out.” I don’t know about the first part, but the last part is definitely true. And that’s why stories of ordinary people living their day-to-day lives can be filled with splendor.
So how do we find that splendor in the ordinary? First, we have to recognize, no matter how hard it is, no matter how skeptical we are, that all our lives are filled with splendor—and that splendor often comes from adversity. Writers find a way to bring that splendor out of the depths of our subconscious and put it on paper. Ravi Zacharias in his book The Grand Weaver, said, “… how easily we take for granted the gift of being normal. Sometimes those of us who have been blessed the most seem to be the least grateful of seeing God’s gracious hand on us.”
So what form will your splendor take—a memoir, an autobiography, a biography, a children’s book, or a novel? And who will want to read something that comes from an unknown writer?
Answer: The form it takes should not be your primary concern. Just start organizing your notes and writing a few scenes. The form will come to you.
More about what distinguishes an also-ran from a winner and finding splendor next time.