Opinion Editorial


THAT ONE THING

James Strauss

 

The process of “writing” has little to do with actual writing at all.
Writing can be dictated, scribbled, typed or put down in calligraphy. It can be done in many languages, using all manner of letters and symbols. What is it really? Writing is nothing more than the expression of thought put down on, or into, some memorializing surface. Rarely is the thought process of writing examined or discussed. The phrase “given enough time anyone can be a writer” is so commonly used by the reading public that it has been said to me, a life long writer, at least a dozen times.

I don’t think that there has ever been any conscious intent by anyone, who’s said that to me, to diminish the art and practice of my writing, or the writing of anyone else, for that matter. It’s simply that so many people miss the “expression of thought” part of the definition. And that’s the phrase where the rubber hits the road. Great, or even good writing, is great or good because of the thoughts put down, not because of the putting down process. If the person writing the story lacks any connection to the real world, and is without a significant body of life experience to draw upon, what story could he or she tell that might be considered great?

Having a great vocabulary, gifted usage and assembly of sentence structure, or even accurate typing and/or fabulous penmanship, means little if the person writing and exhibiting those talents has no story to tell. And having a story to tell that others might identify with, or find interesting, much less gripping, is difficult indeed. Even among the works of the most famous writer’s on earth, a whole slew of their “gifted” writer’s work ends up discarded, discounted or simply read and forgotten. In reality, simply having a few works accepted by a large body of the reading public should be seen as great success for any writer, of any era.   Writing also has many levels, some perceived as greater, and some as lessor, in the literary hierarchy. Novel writing is more difficult and time consuming than writing a short story. A screenplay is easier to write than a researched book of non-fiction. Newspaper or magazine articles may be the easiest of all to write. None of that ease or difficulty means much to readers, however.

Ernest Hemmingway Ski at Geneva Shore Report

One of Ernest Hemingway’s skis in the offices of The Geneve Shore Report

Is Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Old Man and the Sea” more famous than most published novels? Absolutely. Is it more famous because it was easier to write than a novel; because Hemingway became so famous; or is it because the story is so good? Hemingway never knew it’s popularity, as he died before his fame grew to near god-like stature. The Geneva Shore Report owns, and has on display, his skis. That is how famous Hemingway has become. One ski is broken as a result of one of the author’s many falls and injuries. The GSR has a photo of Ernest Hemingway holding the broken ski, while wearing a cast that verifies the validity of the set.

So what? It does not matter. Hemingway did not become famous for his skiing. However, the critical acclaim for Hemmingway’s writing has led to the kind of fame that has bled all over everything the man ever wrote, touched or left behind. And his story is not unique. There’s all sorts of fame associated with writing. Look at Donald Trump and his fame. He initially became famous for portraying himself as the most well know sales clown of all time when he published his first book called The Art of the Deal. Will anyone remember him for his writing, for the quality or the depth of its ability to convey a story, or describe facts? Or will he go down in history for his public antics on television? At the very least, everyone is forced to admit that Donald Trump has been, is being, and, for now, will be read as well as heard. The impact of that feat is for the future to decide.

Writing and editing so many articles and stories for the Geneva Shore Report newspaper has been daunting, while at the same time satisfying (consider over 1600 articles, Op/Ed’s, and stories over more than four years). So many writers never get to publish anything, of any work, they write (statistically almost all writers are never published). Although the newspaper allows for the publishing of a huge body of work, the writers receive little critical analysis of the writing from the readers. Oh, individual articles definitely receive a huge amount of criticism, but generally that criticism is about the subject or person that was written about. The writing itself is seldom ever critiqued, unless editors have allowed technical errors to make it into final print copy.

The other day (while out delivering the paper around the lake on a Wednesday morning) I stopped by a business where a woman was sitting just inside the door, on the end of a long bench. The business was one of the fifty-four around the lake where the GSR is available. She was reading a copy of the GSR from the previous week. I told her that I was there with the new edition, so she could put her older copy back on the rack. She said, “oh no, I keep them. I always get that one thing that makes me smile or feel good.” She accepted the new issue, and since there were customers coming into and going out of the store all around me, I departed. But I could not get her phrase out of my mind.

That one thing.

I called the paper’s online manager to tell him of the incident, since he’s a penetrating critic of the highest order. He wanted more data. I told him I hadn’t had the time or ability to interview the woman, nor did I get her name. The online guy had a question he wanted answered in the worst way. What was the one thing the woman was always looking for in every issue? Was it in the community expository part of the paper? The Op/Ed portion? The fictional story part? I realized that I wanted the answer to that same question, and also that I was never going to get it. Only after reflection did I come to understand that it’s not important that the question be answered. It was already answered, albeit in a passingly strange way.

If someone like that single reader, sitting in that shop, can pursue reading the whole paper very week (in search of “that one thing”), and if occasionally she finds it; then the printer, the editors, the mangers, the front desk, the reporters, and the writers should all sit back and smile.
“That one thing” is what we all live to write and publish, and “That one thing” is what all readers are in search of when they read.
-James Strauss

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