Budding Writer, 1979: With no shame

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About this series: I revisited my journals from my first year as a freelance writer and found they told a story of their own. In this series I get the rare opportunity to give myself, and other writers, career advice with nearly 50 years of hindsight. Enjoy!

The last few days of May and the first of June, 1979, found me bouncing from depression (regretting the telephobia that made me avoid calling sources) to euphoria (literally climbing trees on the farm’s highest hilltop).

I also contemplated from afar the wedding that inspired the story I had sketched out. Then I actually finished a draft of it:

This afternoon and evening I spent mostly on rewriting — or actually, retyping — my Tex story, “The Wedding Presence.” Already I don’t like the title — too much like “Myths America.” What’s more, the story is too much patter, too filled with unjustifiable puns, and too often cumbersome. It does have a regular meter to it, but after a while this, too, becomes tedious.

Even worse, I am an undisciplined writer (“With no shame,” Roger adds on reading it), who cannot pass up the opportunity to set myself up.

Perhaps the story is redeemable. Perhaps it will just be a practice run. Roger said he was enjoying reading it, but neither of us could tell whether this was because he knew the writer and the characters, or what.

On the other hand, this lack of discipline is of the same variety that characterized Mel Brooks, et al, especially with Get Smart. And it never hurt them too much.

I’ll have to see what happens when I finish the story. Until then, no discouragement.

Journal, Volume II
2 June 1979

The next day, I finished that draft:

… I finished the 1st redraft of “The Wedding Presence” and discovered that despite its obvious flaws it probably isn’t really all that bad as a first effort. Needs work, but that’s par for the course. …

I really am starting to worry about money. I’d better come on some ideas, products, or work soon or I may not be able to afford staying in this area. I hope, too, to find inexpensive housing — and health care.

Journal, Volume II
3 June 1979

Showing your work — especially an early work — to someone else is always difficult for a new writer. I was young and insecure. The story was “undisciplined,” which is to say I was taking risks and going over the top in humor and satire. To compare myself to Mel Brooks was over the top, too.

Housemate Roger was a convenient first reader — and an astute one. We had both been critics for the arts page of the campus newspaper, The Dartmouth. We were friends and frequent dinner buddies. He also had the virtue of being blunt unhampered by subtlety.

But when I finished it — again — I realized how much restraint Roger must have exercised when reading it. The story was full of puns and inside jokes, and would not have been as much fun outside a small circle of friends. What’s more, making fun of my friend Tex was a tad cruel, despite his crazy sense of humor.

Meanwhile, the money issues were about to become more troublesome. More on that next time.

The first peony of the season pops up in Southbury, Connecticut, June 5, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

2 thoughts on “Budding Writer, 1979: With no shame

  1. Tell me one author who does not poke fun at his friends or acquaintances in an inside way? Even Dante put of few people he knew in The Inferno. Fun.

    1. True, Celeste, and I know a few people in my circle who would make very colorful characters! (He raises his eyebrows.)
      I’ve had two instances where I later regretted teasing friends that I spoofed as characters. One was in middle school, when we did comic strips for art class. I did a caricature of a chubby classmate and teased him about his Fritos consumption.
      The other was Tex. This particular story was spun off a story he told about how he imagined another friend’s wedding could be disrupted. His story was funny. My satiric treatment was a tad too personal for all the parties involved. I also had Tex star as a Rick-like character in a spoof of “Casablanca” that I serialized for about a dozen friends. He seemed to like that one.

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