Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Shared Wisdom from the Great American Novelist

(Cross-posted from the Grahampage)

One of my college-level English classes assigned me to read EDUCATION OF A WANDERING MAN by Louis L'Amour, a contender for the title of Great American Novelist. The man was an explorer, a soldier, a frontiersman, a hobo, a writer, a poet, and a million other things in the early 20th century. There are over 300 million copies of his books in print today alone.

I had read one or two of his short stories prior to reading EDUCATION, which is his autobiography, and perhaps his most interesting book because it is true. As I read about the events and choices that shaped the life of this American titan, I gained a greater understanding of what personal philosophy a great writer needs in order to shape his or her work.

In my used, dog-eared copy of the book, I marked a ton of quotes and snippets of wit that I wanted to access later. I hope that you'll find value in them the way that I have.

1) You can buy a fair beginning of an education in any bookstore with a good stock of paperback books for less than you would spend on a week's supply of gasoline. 
This rings especially true today, given the amount of books available (including digital), and the cost of gasoline.

2) Early on I discovered it was fun to follow along the byways of history to find those treasures that await any searcher.
Maybe I'd held a passing interest in history in my youth, but it wasn't until my teens when I started traveling abroad that I discovered this same sense of "fun" in it.

3) Adventure is nothing but a romantic name for trouble.
I could write an entire post about this alone. In fact, I will. Later.

4) It is not uncommon today to find no one working in a bookstore who reads anything but the current best sellers, if that much.
When I worked in a bookstore, I really tried to have a wide breadth of familiarity with books in many subjects, specifically for this reason. To date, my highest-rated review on Goodreads is for MY RIDICULOUS ROMANTIC OBSESSIONS by Becca Wilhite. I think I succeeded.

5) a learning process. One never knows enough, and one is never good enough.
It's this mindset that will drive me through the next sixty-plus years of writing until I write something as good as Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. And then I will keep going.

6) The only limitation on any writer is how much effort he or she is willing to put in to be accurate.
Research, research, research.

7) Start writing, no matter about what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. You can sit and look at a page for a long time and nothing will happen. Start writing and it will.
Through this I have discovered my own saying, you "cannot prune a tree that has not been planted, nor can you burn it to the ground." Start drafting. Then you can edit and make it better.

8) Each inclined to believe it is the purpose of history... Few of us see ourselves as fleeting phantoms on a much wider screen, or that our great cities may be dug from the ruins by archaeologists of the future... Someday, men--or some other intelligent creatures--will stand on the sites of New York or Los Angeles and wonder if anyone ever lived there.
Well dang if that ain't a writing prompt.

9) My secret is that no sooner did I put something in the mail than I wrote something else and sent it off... Too many writers put their all into one script, and when it is rejected they are devastated.
I can't stress how right he is; once I started juggling multiple scripts to different outlets, my stress level went way down.

10) [T]here is no real way in which one writer can help another. Each must find his own way, as I was to find mine.
Granted, L'Amour was the product of a different time, and thus this quote deserves some qualification: from the business side of writing, those of us who attend conferences and panels with other writers benefit greatly. Ditto for networking and rubbing shoulders with agents and editors. Nevertheless, none of these things makes you a better *writer.* Study all you want, you won't learn until you try it your way. And as a follow-up...

11) Some writers are prolific; some are not. It has nothing to do with the quality of their work; the speed or frequency of their writing is a matter of personal inclination or temperament.
You can't compare yourself too harshly to the Larry Correias and Brandon Sandersons of the world.

12) [Quoting Gustave Flaubert] "Talent is nothing but long patience." ... [O]thers all fell by the wayside, unable or unwilling to take rejection, and obviously incapable of that long patience of which Flaubert speaks.
To look at this in another light, consider what James A. Owen often says: if you want something bad enough, nothing can stop you.

13) The world with which Americans must deal in the future will no longer be confined to that small area called Europe, although its importance will continue. We must take heed of India and China, of Pakistan and Southeast Asia. The key to understanding any people is in its art.
Yeah...he wrote this a quarter of a century ago. Holy crap.

14) [W]e in this country, as in all nations, need leaders with vision. Too few can see further than the next election and will agree to spend any amount of money as long as some of it is spent in the area they represent. H.G. Wells wisely said that "Men who think in lifetimes are of no use to statesmanship."
America's governmental problems in a nutshell.

15) There has been comment from time to time, usually by people with little discernment, on the lack of sex in my stories. It is very simple. I am not writing about sex, which is a leisure activity; I am writing about men and women who were settling a new country, finding their way through a maze of difficulties, and learning to survive despite them.
I don't care how many copies the Fifty Shades series has sold. I'm all for genre fiction, but I'd rather take the high ground. Sex is an easy out.

16) Ours is a rich and wonderful world, and there are stories everywhere. Nobody should ever try to second-guess history; the facts are fantastic enough.
Although historical fantasy is some darn good fun. :-)

17) I have never found a society that was not materialistic. If you find one, you may be sure it will be dying. Man seeks a means to exist; then he strives to improve that situation. At first he wants something to eat; then he tries to store food against times of famine. He tries to find warmer furs, a better cave, a more secure life. He creates better weapons with which to defend himself, to form alliances that will assist in his protection. It is a normal, natural thing and has existed forever.
Too many of us don't get this.

18) Books are precious things, but more than that, they are the strong backbone of civilization. They are the thread upon which is all hangs, and they can save us when all else is lost.
If you've read even one good book in your life, you know how true this is.

19) To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.
Needs no explanation.

20) [M]an has been a Neanderthal state of mind... The life that lies before us will no longer permit such wastefulness or neglect. We are moving into outer space, where the problems will be infinitely greater and will demand quicker, more accurate solutions. We cannot trust our destinies to machines alone. Man must make his own decisions.

21) Everything is grist for the mill, and someday that episode will find its place in a story.
Speaking of a particular memory of his, but this goes for everything.

22) The world in which I have lived has often been a harsh, bitter one, but it has always been tinged with romance. I doubt I could have endured the one without the other.
Which explains the purpose of hardship rather neatly.

Pick up the book if you get a chance. Seven bucks on the kindle, or you can get a used paperback for less than five.

Then, get back to work. That book won't write itself.

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