The craft of writing is complex. It does not come easy, not even to the most talented of scribes.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s editor, Max Perkins, wrote that Fitzgerald sometimes spent long days, rewriting one paragraph. He agonized over choosing precisely right adjectives and verbs. Sometimes, he’d spend hours on one sentence.
One of my favorite scenes in television is during an episode of my beloved, “Designing Women”. Character Dash Goff (Gerald McRaney), who has just published his first novel, is having a conversation with ex-wife, Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke who, shortly after, became his real wife).
“Dash, do you ever wonder why you married me?” she asks sweetly.
“No, Suzanne, I know why I married you,” he says evenly, novel in hand.
The beauty queen bats her lashes, looking at him ever so coquettishly. She smiles prettily. “Why?”
“Because I wanted to be a great writer and I felt I had not suffered enough.”
Her smile vanishes. “And now?”
“And now,” he replies wryly. “I feel I have.”
It produces a great laugh because Suzanne, on her best days, is a handful of Southern willfulness who alternates between a man’s best dream and his worse nightmare.
Yet, if you’re a writer, the words have a scalding effect and leaves behind the similar pain of skin that has been scorched with boiling water. Pain, like ugly truth, can linger too long.
I’ve known bone deep sorrow. I once ached as I watched an undertaker open the casket lid of my best college friend then felt “swimmy headed” as her shattered mother threw herself across her daughter, her monstrous sobs threatening to knock the coffin off its pedestal.
I’ve seen death up-close and personal — and not just the gentle kind that comes with a sweet, quiet sigh or a peaceful smile. I’ve seen it storm in violently and brutally snatch a friend before my eyes.
Once, you see, I stood on a race track’s pit road and, as my heartbeat suspended itself in horror, watched two race cars smash a beloved friend between them, crushing out his beautiful life. Twelve feet away from the meanness of an ugly demise. I will always recall how the impact popped off his headset, tossing it high in the air and how, in the seconds it took for it to tumble to the ground, all earthly hope was lost.
Other suffering has contributed to the hard-earned, war-scarred writer I became: betrayal by one or two I trusted; sentimental items destroyed by nature’s fury or stolen by man; jobs lost or the times it took two or three of them to pay the bills; disease, doctors, hospitals, and grave voices delivering bad news.
One of the hardest? The morning I sat on a footstool by my precious Mama as she buried her face in her hands and cried in the stoic way that mountain people do when they need a good cryin’ but don’t want to give way. But even the strongest Appalachian woman will break when news comes that Jesus has called her boy home.
I thought I’d seen enough. I was content with the refinement of my writing through fire.
Then, I had to face the truth: I was watching a childhood friend spiral through destructive addiction. It’s a bit absurd now because I actually had the audacity to think that I could escape that particular pain by just sympathizing with others who crawled that journey.
I grew up in a home where liquor wasn’t allowed except for Aunt Ozelle’s homemade blackberry wine which Mama poured by the dab and gave me when I had an upset stomach. Drinking was of the devil. Now, through my friend’s downfall, I have met the devil.
The Bible says that sorrow is better than laughter because the countenance of sadness makes the heart better.
That said, I guess my heart is better. And, perhaps, my writing, too.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Let Me Tell You Something.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]