“Every Day I Write the Book”
When I started up my computer this morning, I saw the news that author Elmore Leonard had died. I wasn’t an Elmore Leonard fan; I’ve never read any of his books. Heck, I never even saw the movie version of Get Shorty. But I fancy myself a writer, so this is the death of a comrade in arms, a fellow wordsmith. Granted, he was a much more famous, successful, and arguably better wordsmith; nonetheless, we are however vaguely connected by this thing we both love and agonize over.
As anyone who has ever tried to write anything will tell you, writing is hard. It’s a struggle to put the right words to your thoughts and feelings. It’s terrifying to show those words to another person. In my job as a writing tutor, it is both company and my personal policy to try to be as encouraging and positive as possible, which I freely admit is sometimes difficult. But positive feedback and constructive criticism are the best ways to encourage writers. Come to think of it, they’re the best ways to encourage anyone at anything.
Elvis Costello turns writing into a metaphor for a romance in this song. It’s not the first time that’s been done in a pop song (see here for another famous example), but no one’s ever done it more cleverly. Like most Costello, there’s a slyness to the lyrical twists and turns that disguises a lot of different emotions. That’s one of the hallmarks of a good writer: Being able to wring as many meanings out of a few words as you possibly can, leaving room for both your own intentions and the audiences’ interpretations. Because that’s the most important thing about writing–or any other art–that a lot of people don’t think about. Once you finally finish (or give up, because no writing is ever truly finished) and send it out into the world, it ceases to be yours. It becomes the world’s.