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Week 3 – Writing vs. Experiencing Life

I saw a movie on TV the other night–Ask the Dust, starring Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek–about a young writer in early 1930s Los Angeles, the city where I grew up. The writer, Colin Farrell, received a check of $250 for a story he submitted to H.L. Mencken, the editor of American Mercury Magazine. Included with the check was a letter from Mencken advising Farrell that it was a writer’s duty to keep working at his craft for many hours each day. Mencken also mentioned that a writer has a duty to experience life if he is to write about life. That’s the dilemma this writer is always facing: whether to write or experience life.

There have been many times I’ve looked out the window of my study and said to myself, “It sure would be nice to get outside on a beautiful day like this.” Oh, I’ve played hooky a number of times over the years, but most of the time I do what writers do, and that is to sit at my desk and work on a story or novel, write in my journal, post something on my website, send my work out to magazines or compose a query letter to an agent.

Today I broke away from my desk to be with my longtime friend and fellow writer Gale Kaplan. Gale is a humorous and eccentric writer who was stricken with multiple sclerosis fifteen years ago.

Before I crossed over the Bay Bridge into Oakland to visit with her, I received an e-mail from another agent in New York who wanted to read the first five chapters of my other unpublished novel,Highway Sailor: A Rollicking American Journey. I had queried this agent a year ago about A Class of Leaders of which he asked to read the first five chapters. Although he turned it down, he said some positive things about the plot and my writing style. In the query letter I sent him for Highway Sailor, I quoted his feedback. It can only help to include something personal to an agent in a query letter.

In one week two agents have responded favorably to all the queries I’ve sent out this month. That, for me, is unusual when it comes to getting the attention of those almost impenetrable gatekeepers of the publishing world.

But back to experiencing life with Gale Kaplan. We sat in her apartment for an hour, bouncing our latest ideas off one another. She would like to make a movie of her life as a writer with multiple sclerosis. I told her about my project of writing a piece once a week for a whole year on the writing process. Afterwards we went to a restaurant she frequents. On the menu was “The Dagwood,” a triple-decker sandwich made famous by Dagwood Bumstead, a character in theBlondie comic strip who is always eating multi-layered sandwiches made up of different cheeses and meats and condiments late at night. I ordered “The Dagwood,” and when it came I thoroughly enjoyed it. Following lunch, Gale and I drove up to the Oakland hills and took in a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, the Pacific Ocean and the Bay Bridge. We then sailed down into Oakland and went to her favorite coffeehouse. We sat at separate tables, she to revise one of her quirky essays and me to write in my journal.

I killed two birds with one stone today: I got out into the world to experience life and I wrote in my journal. A writer couldn’t ask for more than that, except to be published.