Prose and Process
The first writer whose biography I remember reading was Louisa May Alcott. That makes sense. Little Women was one of my favorite childhood books, along with the poems of Edgar Allan Poe, the stories of Sherlock Holmes, The Three Musketeers, The Last of the Mohicans, and the plays of Oscar Wilde. Was I going to be a weird kid, do you think?
What I remember most about Louisa’s life was how often she wrote sick, laughing at herself as–with hurting head and hands–she scratched out page after page of longhand words. No typewriters in her era, just endless longhand. The more popular her work became, the more she paid in pain for her efforts and profits. A recent PBS biography suggested that she suffered from lupus, which can cause bitterly painful joints.
The lesson I learned from Louisa May Alcott was that laughter flowed from those weary hands, and that the most magical aspect of writing is that it takes the writer away from the mundane as much as it can transport the reader. Deep in the heart of writing, I’ll realize a crick in my neck has escalated into a full-blown migraine, or that a foot has fallen asleep (hopefully not the intended readers), or that my husband has become a wizard while I wasn’t looking, because he announced he was going to the grocery store just two minutes ago and he’s already back with an unseemly number of full bags.
Sports people call it “playing hurt.” The adrenaline of the game dulls pain. The mind can “play hurt” too, which I was reminded of this fall and winter when a series of wicked monthly colds punctuated my writing schedule. Still, I made my deadlines. And my travails reminded me of readers who write to tell me that my books “take them away” from the chronic pain or troubles in their lives.
A story is its own magical form of transport and it will accept aboard as many weary, tired, or hurting passengers as care to book passage.