“Writing is a miserable, awful business.
Stay with it.
It is better than anything in the world.”
One of my favourite pastimes is browsing thrift shops, especially for books. One day, in a Terre des Homme store in Leeuwarden, I was scanning the shelves for interesting books when my heart skipped a beat. There it was, Stephen King’s On Writing (A Memoir of the Craft)!
Quite a rare find for a Dutch thrift store, I thought, and I didn’t have it yet, so I immediately bought it of course.
When I got home I sat down to read it. I opened the book, started with the appraisal page, and only then did I notice these two words, written in black ink below the blurbs:
Two bleak, yet poignant words, and they really moved me. Because suddenly the previous owner of the book, someone I hadn’t given a second thought in the thrift shop, became an actual person. A person who had, evidently, dreamt of writing (a novel?), like me. A person who had probably turned to King’s book for advice, hoping to learn something, like me. But unlike me, it looked like this person’s writing ambitions had been dashed.
Of course, I’ll never know what happened there. And who knows, maybe I jumped to conclusions thinking the words are related to writing, but they nevertheless reminded me of my own it’s over moments.
Starting a novel and then following through with a middle and an end takes a lot of time and effort. Sooner or later, in the creation of your story, you’ll hit a bump in the road, and then another one and you begin to lose heart with the whole thing. To keep picking yourself up from this and make yourself go through your text again, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, brainstorming, analising, and trying to sort out what’s not working, not knowing if your story will ever be read by anyone, takes relentless perseverance and dedication to the craft that borders on obsession. I do believe though that if you stick with your writing project, in spite of the struggles, you’ll come to a turning point and discover that your story really is going somewhere and that you have what it takes to finish it.
When my grandmother died, in April 1999, I received her funeral card (a Dutch custom) a few days later. To my surprise, tucked between its folded pages, there was a photocopy of a poem she once wrote and submitted to a newspaper.
My grandmother, the poet; and I’d never known!
Above the poem, she’d written a brief note, dated January 15, 1983, to the editors of the paper.
It said (translated from Dutch): Hereby a late autumn poem. As autumn too falls in the cold season, I thought I’d send it in.
I asked my dad if he knew if the poem had been published and he told me that the Leeuwarder Courant had rejected it.
I wish I’d known about my grandmother’s writing aspirations when she was still here. What a lost opportunity for getting to know her better, and there is so much I would have liked to ask her. Did she have a favourite poet? Did she write more poems or was this just the one? And how did she feel after the newspaper rejected her poem? Did she have a massive its over moment, or did she submit again, to other papers, perhaps?
I’m sharing my grandmother’s poem here, including the English translation (from Dutch):
By Aaltje Westra v/d Woude
O wonderschone herfst O wondrous autumn
Met al die pracht van kleuren With its colourful grandeur
Ik zie ze door het raam looking through the window
En ruik bijna de geuren I almost smell the scents
Die ademloze pracht that breathless splendour
Van machtig groen en geel of mighty green and yellow
En op de grond het kleed and on the ground the blanket
Er liggen haast te veel nearly too bounteous
De oude bomen ruischen the old trees rustle
En zijn nu kil en koud and are now bleak and cold
Maar mensenogen zien het but the eyes of humans see it
Als een sprookjeswoud as an enchanted weald