Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Unbearable Being of Linus (On Writing….Really) by Stephen Parolini


Okay writerly people. I have a very special treat for you today!

The Novel Doctor has agreed to write a guest post for me. If you haven't read his blog, you totally should. No, really...not kidding. I'll give you the link at the end of the post as usual. He sent me a "overlong bio" that he suggested I edit, but I'm not such a good editor and I didn't want to leave any of it out.

So, here's Stephen in his own words:

Stephen Parolini has been writing pretty much since the womb. But when his first book "The View From Here Is Really Dark," written in-utero, was rejected by agents because of a lack of something called "platform" he took a break from writing to pursue a greater career as a curious child, then perpetually distracted but surprisingly successful student, then bank teller, then admissions counselor for his alma mater, Aurora University (it's in Illinois), then Pizza Hut assistant manager, and throughout much of this time, part time youth minister.

About, oh, let's say 24 years ago, he remembered he liked words and so he got himself hired by Group Publishing, where he learned how to edit stuff. He wrote and published some youth ministry books, then quit to be a stay-at-home dad and full-time freelancer, which he's been doing ever since, apart from a brief return to cubicle world working for a publisher in Colorado.

He edits novels and non-fiction books for a variety of folks and is paid in kind words and empty promises - which he then passes along to his creditors.

He has two sons - one is recently married, the other will be as soon as he is of legal age since he and his girlfriend are making him a grandfather much sooner than he'd expected. He himself was married for a long time, but now he isn't. He likes books and movies and music and cookies and romantic idealism and common sense and irony. Not all at the same time.

***

Linus van Pelt.

He’s the philosopher, theologian, believer in Great Pumpkins and keeper of the faith. And he is also the holder of security blanket and sucker of thumb.

Oh Linus, how those who write are just like thee. (Ref: 2 Schulz 9:17, PSV)

While I’m sure some of us can relate to lovable loser Charlie Brown or nicknamed and nameless “Pig-Pen” (shower once in a while, would ya?), writers-who-want-to-matter (isn’t that all of us?) have much more in common with The Kid Who Holds the Blanket.

In my work as an editor, I see all kinds of writers. Mona Lisas and mad hatters, sons of bankers, sons of lawyers. Some are naturally gifted and brilliant storytellers, others are the marketable product of long years of hard work. But across the board, without exception, they are all Linus. They are philosophers, theologians and believers in Great Pumpkins. They are dreamers and thinkers and world-creators who breathe new life into the things we think we know and make up the things that ought to be.

They also suck their thumbs.

Probably not literally, though I can’t be certain of this since I’m not Orwellian enough to have visual access to their writing chambers. But certainly figuratively – they hold tight to whatever secure thing they can because wandering into the wordish wilderness is more than a little unsettling. Once a writer releases his or her words into the world, those words are free game for doubters and detractors and haters and fuss-budgets.

So they hold on to something that gives them comfort.

Some hold onto the tenuous, encouraging words of a spouse or a teacher or an agent or editor. Others pledge allegiance to their day job, just in case the writing thing goes horribly awry. My security blanket is self-effacing humor. Or just self-effacingness, without the humor. Writers need their blankets. If you take away my ability to make light of myself, you take away my ability to write (or perhaps more accurately, you take away the confidence to share my writing with anyone other than the dust bunnies that proliferate under the card table that masquerades as my desk).

The title of this post suggests being a Linus – a writer – is unbearable. It is. To write with intent to share is to bare at least a portion of your soul. Whether you do that in a blog post or a novel or a poem or a Tweet, you’re practically inviting Lucy to tug at your blanket. But this vulnerable space is exactly what we want; it’s what we need, because it’s precisely where the magic lives. It’s where those who read our words might discover something surprising, or something to believe in, or maybe just something that makes them smile.

The vulnerable space is also a reminder that writing is more than an act of the will; it’s an act of faith.

You don’t have to be brilliant to write. You don’t have to have anything particularly unique to say. But you do need more than a little bit of faith if you’re going to share your words with others – faith that your words will matter and faith that you won’t be completely destroyed by readers’ reactions. And by destroyed I mean pumped full of bullets or pumped full of pride. Either can ruin a writer.

I did exhaustive research for this post to make sure all my Peanuts-related information was accurate. (ie: I searched Wikipedia.) As it turns out, Linus eventually grows out of needing his blanket – or at least he doesn’t keep it with him as much as he used to. Apparently, in one comic he also stops sucking his thumb, saying, “It’s a good thumb, but not a great thumb.” I suppose there’s a transferrable lesson in this. But heck if I can figure out what it is. Maybe it’s about how time and experience can grow our writing confidence to the point where we don’t need to hold quite so tightly to those anchors that we once counted on to keep us from completely unraveling when the writing thing teetered toward impossible.

I don’t know, though. I think that whole “act of faith” never goes away for writers. Perhaps over time we suck our thumbs less often, but ultimately, whenever we put words on the page we’re inviting scrutiny by friends and strangers. We’re saying, “this is a piece of me…what do you think?” Whether we do this with great confidence, “You wanna piece of me? Chew on this!” or with high anxiety, “It’s just li’l ol’ me, please be gentle,” it’s a risky act. In fact, it’s practically unbearable.

And yet we keep doing it.

Because we are Linus. We are writers. And we are compelled to write.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find my blanket. It’s a little chilly here, what with the draft that’s blowing through the rather large holes in this blogpost.

***

To read more from Stephen Parolini, visit him at The Novel Doctor and follow him on the twitter at @noveldoctor.

19 comments:

cherie said...

This was great. Thanks so much for sharing it. How true these words are for any of us who love to write. Thanks again.

~*Michelle*~ said...

This was brilliant....(huge Peanuts fan)

Thanks for sharing The Novel Doctor with us.....

and for the record, one of my favorite "sermons" was preached by Linus in The Charlie Brown Christmas special.

JML said...

That truly was a great post. Definitely a lot to consider!

Janet Oberholtzer said...

Great post!
Thanks Katdish and Thanks Stephen!

Love this paragraph ...
"You don’t have to be brilliant to write. You don’t have to have anything particularly unique to say. But you do need more than a little bit of faith if you’re going to share your words with others – faith that your words will matter and faith that you won’t be completely destroyed by readers’ reactions. And by destroyed I mean pumped full of bullets or pumped full of pride. Either can ruin a writer."

Tony C said...

Your excellence in writing and analogy make me cringe with insecurity...

Do you know how hard it is to type with one hand?

Maureen said...

Reading this has made my morning. Great post!

Thanks to you, katdish.

Helen said...

Very good analogy. It is the vulnerability that makes it hard, but without it, writing is rather pointless.
Thanks for sharing some great thoughts.

L.L. Barkat said...

Speaking of writing (in an off-topic way :) ... don't be so sure your writing wouldn't make the cut. I'm betting that Joan will be looking for original voices or just plain good stories. You do both.

Corinne said...

Linus was always my favorite. Wonderful post, I'm putting it in my "reread without clingy baby in one arm" folder ;)

Bridget Chumbley said...

I was so thankful when you introduced me to the Novel Doctor on Twitter, katdish.

This is a terrific post and I love these words:

"The vulnerable space is also a reminder that writing is more than an act of the will; it’s an act of faith."

Thank you, Stephen and Kathy!

FaithBarista Bonnie said...

"The vulnerable space is also a reminder that writing is more than an act of the will; it’s an act of faith."

Hey Stephen.. It was hard to pick a favorite single quote from your post. Too many!

Each time I write, I hope for a connection, an extension of my heart, in an open position... waiting, in faith.

Thank you to Stephen and Kat!

Kathleen said...

Best thing to swallow since the first sip of coffee this morning. We're NOT alone! Thanks to both of you.
And can I please thank twitter too? :) You all have me so enthused, encouraged and over stimulated that I can't get to sleep, even with my blankie.

Amy Sorrells said...

I'd tell you this post is brilliant, hilarious, heart-renching, relatable, and that it TOTALLY made my day . . . but alas, my thumb's in the way.

Brett Barner said...

Thank you Stephen! My security blanket is more of a Snuggie. I cover my entire body with it in efforts to not feel even the slightest of invulnerability.

I think this just became one of my favorite articles of all time. Great post!

Jeanne Damoff said...

Great post, Stephen. I always enjoy your words. Maybe you should resubmit that in-utero piece, now that you've got a bit of a platform going. I would read it.

Annie K said...

Katdish, how do you find these people?

And that is an awesome dog on your blog. Just sayin'.

BJ Hamrick said...

Do Novel Doctors count as security blankets? 'Cause I'm pretty sure I send anonymous letters to Stephen whenever I'm freaking out about a project.

Joanne Sher said...

Well - wow! Excellent stuff, and so much to ponder!

nAncY said...

love the photo.

and
good getting to know you, stephen