Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.–E.B. White
I don’t think I’m over-generalizing by saying most English-speaking (and some non-English) writers have been influenced in one way or another by E.B. White. I was reminded of this over the past couple of weeks as I prepared a booktalk on White for my daughter’s third grade class. But mostly I was reminded of one thing: White’s book Charlotte’s Web was the book I read and decided to be a writer.
I was about seven, I think, when I got pneumonia and was in the hospital for a week, then home recuperating for another week. I wasn’t truly old enough to understand that it was serious, but my classmates made me get well cards and one of my extended cousins brought me a copy of Charlotte’s Web as a get well gift. His mother probably made him, and I doubt I ever thanked him properly, so he probably never knew that book became my most treasured possession.
I was a voracious reader (still am), and I read that book over and over and over again. The writing was…luscious. Like nothing I’d ever read before. Every writer knows the quote from Charlotte’s Web:
“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”
How I wanted that quote to apply to me! I could be a true friend. Could I be a good writer? Could I use my words and talent to influence the world for good, as Charlotte had? In my innocence, I truly believed so. It wasn’t until I got much older that I realized how difficult the two could be to fit together. Maybe this quote, also from Mr. White, might explain why:
“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
And there’s the rub. If you want your writing to mean something, if you see a need in the world and you try to address it with your writing—somebody’s not going to like it. Writing is a solitary profession that, like a single pebble thrown into a lake, causes ripples wherever it lands. The water may not like being rippled, and it may not understand why you threw the pebble in the first place, but it ripples, nonetheless. It’s something all writers deal with to some degree or other.
However, in the course of preparing my booktalk, I came across a new, and very hopeful, E.B. White quote that I have now pinned up next to my desk.
“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world. I guess you can find that in there, if you dig around.”
Maybe one day, I’ll be as good a writer or at least as true a friend as Charlotte. I’ll keep working on it.