What Classic Writers Can Teach Us

In the rush to read the latest books, it’s always a joy to find something written decades or even a century ago by a classic writer who reveals part of their writing process along the way.

I was given the raised eyebrows when I checked out The Autobiography of Mark Twain Vol. 1 from my local library this week. To be sure, this is a door stopper if ever there was one. My original plan was to buy the book on Kindle, but the cheaper edition was only the “readers” edition, meaning that all the commentary was removed from the book, and the official edition was way too expensive for me to justify buying an eBook.

So, the library it was. Hermione would be proud.

Rather than skipping all the introduction, which is quite a few pages, I hunkered down and decided to start at the beginning.

I’m glad I did because the narrative of how Mark Twain started his autobiography was very enlightening. Not only did he struggle with how to begin, he also had many “false starts” that he deemed not worthy – though they were incredibly interesting either way.

How many times have I struggled with the simple act of beginning a piece of writing? It’s tricky and one of those stupid things that exists only in my head. Once I start, however, the writing generally flows easily – albeit with a few five minute breaks here and there, and of course, some coffee. Maybe two cups.

The point is that even a writer of classic literature had high standards for himself as an an author, and though it may not be comforting to see that even the best of us struggles with fear of beginning and fear of a passage not being good enough, we are still in good company.

I can say that while I might not make it through the entire book due to its length, I look forward to continuing my reading of this book and am glad that such attention to detail has been paid. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are two of my favorite books from childhood. Those might demand a re-read in the near future.

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