I have dragged myself out of bed after midnight on a good sleeping night—one of those rain-blessed nights when you hear the tap and drizzle of the storm just outside the window—because this musing has come to me.
If I wait till morning, I’ll lose it.
It’s a message for you, Dear Reader, about creativity.
Maybe you have thought you would like to write something. Something true from your life and experience, be it written as fact or fiction. Something you might share with your children, your grandchildren, or the world.
But you have answered yourself: “No. I’m no writer.”
Or maybe: “No. I’d start and then not know where to go from there. I’d get writer’s block.”
But before you give up on the idea, consider my case. I resolved six years ago to start the writing career I had always promised myself. I knew not what I would write, nor how. But there was something inside me that had to come out. Surely if I gave it a whirl, something would turn up.
So I plunged in.
Are you still with me, Gentle Reader? Just plunging in is not unheard-of. People do it. You could plunge in, too—if you so chose.
When I plunged in, I wanted to write about the past—the place where I spend most of my time. But the first thing that came to me—it came in a dream one night—was a brief, whimsical character study of Skeezie, our woebegone old Siberian husky. I sent it to Fetch! magazine—“For dogs and their humans”—and they bought it.
What a morale booster! But it was an isolated victory, something of a fluke. I buckled down to my real aim of writing about the past. I wrote short stories about a young boy named Izzy Mahler, growing up in the ’Fifties. I submitted one to The Saturday Evening Post, and they published it in their online edition.
Wow, another fluke.
Over the next couple of years, the Post bought a couple more Izzy Mahler stories (here and here).
But I wanted something more. I hankered to write a novel. My wife, Jo, had unearthed my Norwegian ancestors, and the framework of their lives, as shown by her research, suggested the beginnings of a plot.
Plunging in is fine, Cherished Reader, but I craved a surer sense of what I was about. What kind of Pandora’s box would I open if I embarked on a novel? So I signed up for the University of Wisconsin–Extension’s “Write By The Lake” conference in the summer of 2016. There, the inimitable Laurie Scheer encouraged me to go ahead and write my “immigrant novel.”
So I plunged in. Does this suggest any writing strategy to you, Dear Reader?
I wrote most of the novel on my laptop but part of it in longhand in a notebook I took with me to a church meeting in 2017. I recruited volunteer beta readers to read my work and give feedback.
Sensing I was in over my head, I joined Tuesdays With Story, a writers’ mutual critique group led by Jerry Peterson of Janesville, Wisconsin. Jerry is an author with plenty of publication credits, a master of great stories. When I showed my early chapters to the group, I had to swallow a lot of guff arising from amateurism in my writing. It was galling, Dear Reader—but I could not ignore the truth in the critiques.
My writing started to get better.
We talked a lot in the group about “writer platforms,” about one’s “social media presence,” about “blogs” and “podcasts.” It seemed you had to do that stuff to be successful. My heart screamed, “No! No! No! Here I am trying to burrow into the past, and you’re trying to shove me into some godforsaken future. I won’t go!”
But at some point in those discussions, Jerry said, “Well, instead of thinking of a blog as something to promote your writing, you might look at a blog as being your writing—at least, part of it. If nothing else, it’s a chance to write something and get it in front of the public, on your own terms.”
To Blog, or Not to Blog: That Is the Question
It was an agonizing decision. For a blog to be worth doing, it ought to be posted regularly, maybe as often as once a week. I would have to spend a lot of my precious time composing and posting blog entries.
I had heard somebody say, “It’s easy. Just rattle off something and post it. A few minutes a week.” But I could never do that. Why would I put something into the world under my name that was not carefully written? Pondered? Revised? Crafted? To do so would be the opposite of what I was trying to do. If I was going to start a blog, the entries needed to be high in quality.
That meant significant time spent each week, and that would cut into my novel writing time. Besides—where would I come up with all the material needed for a weekly blog post?
I’m hearing an echo now, Kind Reader, as you murmur, “What if I tried to write something? Where would I get the content?”
Well, I’ll tell you what Your New Favorite Writer did.
I plunged in. Here we go again. Do you see a pattern?
Since April 2019, I have posted 164 blog entries. What you are reading now will be Number 165. I have posted almost every week, usually on Tuesday morning. I have written about my grandmother’s postcard collection, the Springfield race riot of 1907, the losses of two of my uncles in World War II, General Grant, the onset of autumn in Wisconsin, the craziness of coping with COVID, how to use a chainsaw, the philosophical reflections of Milo Bung (a direct descendant of Æthelred the Unready and fourth cousin to Slats Grobnik) and more than a hundred other topics. I have even posted a few not-quite-ready-for-prime-time short stories.
Where did all that content come from?
All I can say is, there’s always something. I never run dry.
Wellspring of Creativity
That’s my message to you, Fair Reader: There’s always something. When you start to create, you reach down into some magical place, where there’s always more stuff ready to bubble forth. As soon as you take some out and write it down, more wells up to take its place.
I think of it as a wellspring of creativity. I’ve spoken to other writers, and I’m assured the situation is the same in all other kinds of artistic endeavors: The more you produce, the more there is to draw from.
You can never run out. There’s a wellspring of creativity inside you.
I’m not talking about Creation. That would be presumptuous. In my theology, only God creates. The best we can do is recombine elements of that primordial Creation in new ways. That’s not Creation—but it is creativity. Somehow, when we do this kind of work, we participate in God’s creative work.
Yes, Distinguished Reader. I’m saying it’s a Divine Calling.
Ignore it at your peril.
Despite the time and effort required for the weekly blog post, I have completed and sold an epic novel, due to be published August 23. I have a middle-grades novel for which I’ll soon be seeking a publisher. And there are other projects in the works, which I’m not ready to talk about yet.
The more you dip out, the more comes in to take its place.
You might think about trying it, too, Dear Reader.
Just plunge in. You have but to stretch forth your hand.
Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer
Price of Passage
Norwegian Farmers and Fugitive Slaves in Pre-Civil War Illinois
(History is not what you thought!)