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I Have Something That I Want to Say

So here’s my first STORYTELLERS UNPLUGGED column of the year. This is where I offer advice about / insight into / comments on “the writing life.”

For decades at the writing workshops I’ve conducted, I’ve asked the sort of rhetorical question “Why write?” to kick things off.

“Sort of” because I typically do supply an answer: “There’s only one reason to write. You write because you have something to say.”

And then I add “… and we all have something to say.”

Here’s the mantra I’ve developed. It’s uplifting. It’s empowering.

I have something that I want to say.

I have something to say that matters to me.

I have something to say that (I hope) matters to you.

And that’s the answer to “Why write?”

But for me right now, that’s the problem.

As we kick into 2010, I’m finding …

Uh, I have something that I want to say.

No, I don’t. Not that much, anyway. I used to have something, some things, lots of things, actually, but somehow, not right now.

Uh, I have something to say that matters to me.

Not so sure about that, either. Perhaps I’ve said the old stuff so often that it’s lost its meaning. Perhaps I am an empty vessel waiting to be filled with the zealous fire of some new message. I’ll check, see if I have a soul marked ‘Watch this space.’

Uh, I have something to say that (I hope) matters to you.

Nope. The preacher has left the pulpit. The gauge on the sermon tank is on ‘E.’ I don’t know what I can tell you, share with you, suggest to you, that will matter even a little.

So, that’s the way it is for this guy right now. Sure, I’m engaged in a couple of writing projects which I committed to a while back. I’m trying to work up energy to bring to ‘em. At worst, I’ll get through on automatic pilot and they’ll turn out okay because after all these years of wordsmithing, I could do okay writing if I were in a coma.

But at this time in this life, instead of focusing on the craft and sullen art, I’d rather read. Got some great books: Joyce Carol Oates Selected Stories and A. J. Liebling’s boxing essays and a terrific book on the Weimar Republic.

And I’d rather play guitar. Just put a new nine volt in my original Electro-Harmonix Big Muff pedal, plugged in my Supro resoglass guitar, and it sounds good.

And I’d rather watch Laurel and Hardy movies. Or Wheeler and Woolsey movies. Maybe some Joe E. Brown.

And I’d rather listen to Bunny Berrigan and Chet Baker and Stuff Smith and Josh White.

And I’d like to be with people and instead of talking as much as I have a tendency to, I’d like to spend most of my time listening.

So, here’s my advice about / insight into / comments on “the writing life” for this month: If you feel like writing, if you want to write, if you’re convinced you have something to say that matters to you and can matter to others, go ahead and write.

As for me, not so much. Not right now.

And if the not so much persisteth, then next month around, I’ll probably write, “Fare ye well, adieu, and so long” in this slot on STORYTELLERS UNPLUGGED.

Or I might get out my Epiphone El Dorado guitar (yeah, I’m bragging about my great guitars) and a flat pick and play you a verse and chorus of Woody Guthrie’s “So Long, Been Good to Know You.”

And either way, the world will keep right on spinning.

8 comments to I Have Something That I Want to Say

  • Happy New Year, Mort. Better to take a break when you need to. I liken it to writing ten pages even though I know seven of them are crap. Hell, I have no directional compass when it comes to writing every mon th. You know what I think I would really dig? Mort writing about the Mort of the 1980s, the Mort I first met. Just a thought. And you have your guitars, I have black helicopters that fly over every day. See you in a month, pal.

  • Lord knows there are always reasons NOT to write…and yeah, having something to say – something that matters – is the driving force. I’ve learned one thing in fifty years I can take to the bank, though…there are certain things that I do – things that matter to me. Being a writer, and writing, are on that list. The few times I’ve chucked that for any extended period, things were not good. I think – sometimes – it’s like great old bands that break up and then try to get back together…it’s never quite the same. Not saying it can’t be good, but…it’s better to say Aloha than farewell, is all. Hope next week you’ll play us a few licks of “The Gang’s All Here,” instead…


  • Brian Hodge

    I’d hate to see you go, Mort, so let’s hope January replenishes the waters.

    Where SU is concerned, at least, I was where you are now about a year ago. That scraping sound you heard was the flagstone at the bottom of the well. Gave it a rest, came back feeling recharged — my November and December entries were about this process — and now I have enough installments notated to last into early summer. There’s always more to say, but sometimes you have to take a breather and let it catch up to you.

    In the meantime, there are worse ways to while away awhile than cranking a signal through a Big Muff.

  • Sometimes it’s best to just play the guitar.

    Somehow the words sneak back in through the music.

    Take a break, if you need to. If you’ve reached the stone at the bottom of the well, and the well is dry, there’s little point in digging under the flagstone – it simply undermines the foundations. Step back and play the guitar until the well fills again.

  • How about putting together that SU book for Writer’s Digest, the one you were going to do a few years ago?

  • Brian Hodge

    Mort: A late-breaking recommendation for you…

    Tonight we watched the DVD It Might Get Loud, this amazing guitarist summit with Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White. Beyond the fretwork itself, it’s a great exploration into creativity and artistic evolution.

  • I hope you write about the world spinning. It happens so effortlessly yet accomplishes so much.

  • Trish

    Hey maybe a trip at the end of the month to the Borderlands Bootcamp. Being around the enthusiasm of us grunts may be just the thing to bring you back!
    (Yeah maybe this is a little self-serving too. I have to admit I was a little disappointed when your name didn’t appear on the schedule.)
    Would hate to see you go from here.

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