The Rabbit Hole

One of my favorite books about writing is Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, his posthumously published memoir about his years in Paris as a young man. It was the first book I’d read that I felt fully captured the pleasures and challenges of writing, though one line always both bothered me and stayed with me. Hemingway was describing the need for discipline if you want to write, and how you can’t let your life’s problems get in the way of your work. Besides, he went on, “Work solves everything.”

I don’t care if the guy won the Nobel Prize, I thought, nothing solves everything. I was a young man myself when I first read the book. I’d had my share of problems and did not think work alone could possibly have solved all of them. Though even as I thought this, I could not remember what had solved them. Problems were strange that way. They seemed in those days to appear and disappear like unwanted party guests, cluttering up the conversation with their complaints and accusations, until mysteriously, quietly, without ever being asked to leave, they were gone.

Then recently I was having one of those days a writer sometimes has. I had agreed to write six essays about Fearless Writing for an online tutorial. Unfortunately, I had just written a whole book on the subject, and was finding the work boring. On this particular day, as I looked about at my little world, all my interests felt like chores and all my chores felt like slave labor. Life, apparently, had become chewing gum chewed past its flavor. Plus, all the news on the TV was bad. People killed each other and screamed at each other. Also, people bought all the wrong books.

I decided I would write the next essay as if I’d never written about fearless writing before. I didn’t care if it contradicted everything I’d written in the book; there was just no point in doing anything if it wasn’t any fun. Before long, a New Idea arrived. Just what I’d been looking for, I thought, and followed it. Down the rabbit hole we went, and the old world was forgotten because the new one was so interesting.

I’m not sure how much time I spent in the rabbit hole, ten minutes or two hours. Time changes down there. Eventually, the Idea and I had wound our way back to the surface. When I emerged, I sat for a moment, back in my chair, in my room, in this world, and I tried for a moment to remember my problems from earlier that day. I couldn’t. Papa was right, I concluded, and left my office, to return to my very interesting life.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.


Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
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The Great Book Myth

In A Moveable Feast Ernest Hemingway describes reading The Great Gatsby for the first time and concluding that F. Scott Fitzgerald had written “a great book.” By the time I read A Moveable Feast I’d attended enough undergraduate literature classes and seen enough lists of The Hundred Greatest Novels to believe that Hemingway was merely perceiving a fact that the rest of the world soon agreed upon.

Except Fitzgerald died believing The Great Gatsby was a commercial disappointment, which, to that point, it was. His best known novel did not sell as well as his earlier works, and the year he died the book sold only seven copies, five of which Fitzgerald bought to give as gifts. I do not know what unfolded in the following decades to see the book attain its current status as a regular occupant at the tippy-top of the literary canon. That evolution is as mysterious as the relationship between art and audience, and is the reason that The Great Book is a myth, a fish tale upon which millions have agreed.

The Great Book is a myth, an illusion, because it suggests that a story’s value to an individual can be measured in anything beyond his or her own unique experience of it. As it happens, I like The Great Gatsby, though it was at first difficult to discern this because I had already been told so many times exactly how good and important and nearly perfect it was. All this praise and critical genuflecting became noise that interfered with the relationship between the words on the page and that which gave those words life within me.

What is not an illusion is the experience of being moved by a story, or thrilled by a story, or amused by a story. What is not an illusion is the desire to keep reading when you should be starting dinner. What is not an illusion is what comes to life within us when we discover something we love. The Great Book will only exist in fact, in reality, the day that love can be quantified and measured and compared, the day that one life can be said to be more worth living than another.


Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

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