(An abridged essay by cultural columnist Michael Ventura, originally published in LA Weekly May 21-27, 1993.)
This essay in its entirety is powerful, yet it pulls no punches about writing as a lifelong, full-time endeavor. Because my goal with this ezine is to inspire you and not scare or intimidate the dickens out of you, I’ve pared the original 1800+ word essay to less than 500 words. Now the choice to go deeper is yours, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. As always, the bolding below is mine sort of like an act of public service for the Wild Quills audience.
Writing is something you do alone in a room.
Copy that sentence and put it on your wall because there’s no way to exaggerate or overemphasize this fact. It’s the most important thing to remember if you want to be a writer. Writing is something you do alone in a room.
Before any issues of style, content or form can be addressed, the fundamental questions are: How long can you stay in that room? How many hours a day? How do you behave in that room? How often can you go back to it? How much fear (and, for that matter, how much elation) can you endure by yourself? How many yearshow many yearscan you remain alone in a room?
…Nobody can teach you how you, in particular, are going to behave when you’re alone for hours a day over long periods of time trying to deal with unknown quantities: what you have to express, what experience your expression draws on, how that experience relates to the solitude necessary for its expression, the form in which it comes out (which is never quite the form you planned on), how that form changes as it progresses, and, most important, who you areall these are just a few of the unknown quantities that are locked up with you in your room.
…The room, you see, is a dangerous place. Not in itself, but because you’re dangerous. The psyche is dangerous. Because working with words is not like working with color or sound or stone or movement. Color and sound and stone and movement are all around us, they are natural elements, they’ve always been in the universe, and those who work with them are servants of these timeless materials. But words are pure creations of the human psyche. Every single word is full of secrets, full of associations. Every word leads to another and another and another, down and down, through passages of dark and light. Every single word leads, in this way, to the same destination: your soul. Which is, in part, the soul of everyone. Every word has the capacity to start that journey. And once you’re on it, there is no knowing what will happen.
Locking yourself up with such things, letting them stir, using these pure psychic creations as raw material, and deciding, each time, how much or little you’re going to participate in your own act of creation, just what you’ll stake, what are the odds, just how far are you going to gothat’s called being a writer. And you do it alone in a room.
-Michael Ventura, excerpted from his essay, “The Talent of the Room.” Like to read some of Mr. Ventura’s work? You’ll find a great archive of his essays (more than 170 of them!) right here.
Teacher, writer, and Wild Quills charter member Sandy LaRochelle brought this Ventura piece to a Wild Quills meeting. Thanks, Sandy!