Sunday, March 19, 2006

On Being True to the Dreams of One's Youth

In the current issue of the Catholic intellectual journal First Things, Notre Dame philosophy professor Ralph McInerny, author of the popular Father Dowling mysteries, writes beautifully about his years-long writing apprenticeship. The essay is adapted from his upcoming autobiography, I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You: My Life & Pastimes.
'And so it began. In the basement was a workbench, unlikely to serve its original purpose for me. It became my desk. It was L-shaped. I plunked my typewriter on the short leg of the L and, standing, began. Every night after we put the kids to bed, I would go downstairs and write from 10 until about 2 in the morning. The markets I was chiefly interested in were Redbook, Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping.'

He ends this way:
'Perhaps it was the economic spur that turned me into a professional writer and drove my nightly, dogged efforts in the basement of our house on Portage Avenue, learning to write publishable stories, but after I gained my immediate objective and had us out of debt, I continued to write at what might seem a frantic pace. If I asked myself how many novels I have published, I could not answer--and I do not really want to know. Herman Melville's career, after knowing highs, went into decline and he was all but forgotten when he wrote his late novella Billy Budd. In his portable writing desk there was found a motto: Be true to the dreams of your youth. I like to think it sustained him as he wrote on in undeserved obscurity. Finally, that is what any writer does, return again and again to the original aspiration that came to him when young. It is the writing, producing a well-made story, that counts. All the rest is gravy.'


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