We need to back up just a bit and ask the question . . . Why?
My eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. Kicklighter, knew why. No one in her class knew why, especially me, at least not at first.
I dreaded Mrs. Kicklighter’s class, not because she was the teacher, but because of the subject matter. Little did I know, however, as I walked into her classroom that morning, and saw the record player on her desk, that the next two days with Mrs. K would leave a lasting impression on me, one that still inspires me, some forty-five years later.
Mrs. K, God rest her soul, was a bit of a strange bird. She was an old lady, probably in her mid-fifties (for an eighth grader that’s older than dirt), she had stringy hair that never seemed brushed, she wore thick-lensed glasses that hung lopsided on her face, her dresses always had flowery patterns, and she walked a little hunched over, yes, a strange bird.
Case in point, the only other thing (yes, I will get back to the subject shortly) that I remember from her class (because I certainly didn’t retain a lick of spelling, grammar, or proper punctuation. Why would I need these? I was going to be an engineer?) was that eating wheat bran every day was good for the digestive system. Go ahead and laugh, but I’ve been regular ever since. I know that was gross but Meda’s not around so I got away with it.
When we were all seated, Mrs. K closed the classroom door, walked over to her desk, put a 45 onto the turntable, and lowered the needle to the disk. (For those of you who are too young to know what a record player is, it was a device used to play music back in the caveman days.)
The song that played was “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. I had never heard the song before that day. After playing it twice, Mrs. K asked us to close our eyes, put our heads down on the desk, and listen to the words very carefully.
When the song ended again, Mrs. K hunched around the room handing us each a sheet of paper containing the song lyrics written in her handwriting. She played the song several more times and we read along. Some guy with a baritone voice in the back of the room started to sing, which I remember finding very annoying.
Our homework assignment that night was to study the lyrics word-by-word, line-by-line. What did they mean?
I was fascinated. I brought the whole thing up at the dinner table that night and my parents, my sister, and I talked about it for over an hour. Was it a song or a message? The answer, of course, was that it is both. For me the experience was life changing, a lesson I will always remember.
So the question is . . . why? Why did Mrs. Kicklighter lug her record player into class that day and play us that song? Was she tired of talking about word usage and sentence structure and just wanted to listen to music? Was she hoping the big kid who always sat in the back of the room (me) might somehow stay awake for at least two days?
I think not. I think she did it because she had a passion. She loved what she did. She loved to teach, and she was good at it. She was willing to pull out all of the stops, rack her brain, and go the extra mile if it meant her students would take something meaningful away from her lesson. She cared about us. And as it turns out she wasn’t a strange bird after all, she was a swan.
So with the first sentence of your novel ready to go, and before you spend countless hours writing, editing, publishing, and then marketing your book, you need to ask yourself why. Why am I doing this?
If your answer is that you want to be rich and famous, that’s fine, but you need to know that that’s probably not going to happen. I’ll stop right there because only you know your own why. If you don’t know your why, (yes, here comes another homework assignment) then you should think about it long and hard. Write it down and put it somewhere close by. On those days when the words aren’t flowing, it will be a helpful reminder.
I write because I absolutely love it. I love every part of it. I can’t get enough of it. It brings me great satisfaction. Like Mrs. K and her teaching, writing is my passion. I’m willing to pull out all of the stops, rack my brain and go the extra mile if at the end of the day I’ve written a story that I’ve enjoyed telling myself and one that hopefully others will find entertaining.
I’ll close with some words that I heard somewhere along the way:
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence.