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Dikkon Eberhart [A cousin who is a poet and novelist requested a short writerly reminiscence of life with my father. It was to be part of a presentation she was making on the west coast, in honor of what would have been Dad’s 113th birthday—which he did not attend, having died 12 years before. I posted it last year, but many writers are new subscribers to my blog, so I present it again, slightly modified.]

Dad was prominent as a poet. When I was young, I longed not to be a poet. I’d be anything—a quarterback, an FBI agent, a ship captain. But in my soul, I knew I would end up as a chip off Dad’s block. Alas, I was a word-smith, too. So I watched Dad, to learn how. One Read, read, read. Read any style, content, genre, author, date—it doesn’t matter. “We pour our souls into these words, Dikkon. You need to learn to identify writing that’s worth that effort and writing that’s not.” Once, after Dad breezed through an erotic novel I showed him, drily he responded, “Chaucer did it better.” Two Just Start "I can’t write it,” I moaned, regarding my short story assignment in high school. “It’s too hard!” Dad caught Mom’s urging eye, put down his pipe, and asked me, “What’s your story about?” “When they’re choosing up teams, the boy wants to be picked first but maybe he won’t be.” “And?” “I don’t know! Maybe he isn’t picked first, but maybe he hits the home run.” And then I blurted, “It’s due tomorrow!” “Try making the story about his thoughts.” “About his thoughts?” “Yes. Try starting with the word ‘maybe.’” Dad grinned. “Maybe the story is about maybe.” So I wrote the story and submitted it on time. Its first sentence was “Maybe I’ll be picked first but maybe not.” Three Bring the reader in. “Do you like it?” Dad asked. “It’s assigned.” “Not what I asked.” “Then, no. It’s boring.” “Do you think maybe the author’s just writing for himself and maybe for his closest friends?” I hadn’t thought of that as a possibility. The author was a major name in modernist English fiction—the focus of my college class. Dad pressed on, “Don’t you think it’s important that you be drawn in?” “Who? Me?” “You’re his reader, aren’t you?” I laughed. “I wouldn’t be his reader, not if I could help it.” “So…that’s my point. Yes, the reader must come to the writer, but the reader will come to the writer only when he’s drawn in, not forced in.” “That’s not happening here.” “So when you’re a writer….” I nodded. “Bring ‘em in.” “Atta boy.” Four Don’t go to sleep until you know what happens next. “No,” Dad said. “I don’t believe in writer’s block.” “It’s my first novel, Dad. I can’t get past the point where I am. You’re a poet, not a novelist. How could you know?” “What’s the last scene you wrote?” I told him. “Go back and write it again.” “What’s wrong with it?” “Doesn’t matter. Probably nothing. But write it again--create it over again. Your juices will begin to flow again, and you’ll speed on.” Turns out he was right—I sped on. Five Don’t let it fester. I called Dad. Two days before, I had finished my second novel, doing its last sixty pages in an eighteen-hour burst of ecstatic—almost holy—writing. “It’s done, Dad.” “Congratulations!” “I’m exhausted.” “Of course. Get a rest.” “Tell Mom.” “Of course. So…what’s next?” “I read it over. I think it’s good. Gotta do some tweaks.” “Do that. But then—get it off your desk.” “What do you mean?” “Don’t let it fester. Get it out into the world. If you tweak it too much, you could kill it. Now let an editor tell you what to do. ” HERE’S A BONUS—one more thing—BECAUSE YOU KEPT ON READING! A Sixth Thing I Learned, but not from Dad Keep trying. Sitting in our garden one day, Robert Frost turned to me and remarked, “Dikkon, the work of the poet is to write at least one single poem that they can’t get rid of. They’ll try. But don’t let ‘em.” *** If You are Not a Writer, God has blessed you with a different burden. But your rules are just the same. One Steep yourself in all available wisdom. Two Begin, even when you are afraid to begin. Three Engage with those outside of yourself by understanding what they desire. Four When stuck, allow your spirit to be refreshed by starting over. Five When finished, bring the others in. ​ And a Bonus! Keep working. Work hard. But take The Longer View. You may win. You may not win. But you tried.

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Dikkon Eberhart

During summer, our house swims in shade.

I love shade!

Otherwise our experience of summer in SW Virginia is hot, hot, hot. But our house is surrounded by large oaks and maples, and they keep us in shade, blessedly.

When we bought our house, the woman next door came over and said, “You poor guy, you have no idea what trouble you’re in.”

I was puzzled. I wasn’t in trouble—I was in shade!

My wife and I are grateful for our trees, which keep our house cooler than others and reduce our cooling cost all summer long. The trees cool us because they are covered with leaves. Come fall—which begins in November—the leaves turn yellow, and…they fall.

Billions of them.

Billions upon billions upon billions of them.

They inundate our yard, roof, gutters, porch, driveway, patio, and parking area in back.

Our neighbor was right. The raking job is an enormous task. It is an enormous, on-going task, and it lasts through most of two months.

Reader, don't worry. There is a God point to this blather about leaves. The God point is metaphorically about the last leaf to fall.

Here in our valley we get wind storms. We got a big one five days ago. It was a strong, cool wind (thank the Lord!) roistering through the trees from the northwest, sending that day’s billion of leaves before it—like snow. We had a blizzard of leaves.

Have you noticed something about leaves?

They like moving in a gang. They all make up their minds at the same time, and then they do what the others do. When the wind comes along, they all let go and tumble, as though they were the crazy idea of some slap-dash painter, flinging yellow flakes of tinsel down the air.

But—no—not all of them.

Our blizzard died away. I went outside. The day was cooler than before, and the air was still now, with the sun bright and slantways from low down in the west. Everywhere that I could see, I saw inches—even a foot—of depth of yellow leaves.

I had intended to start by sweeping the porch, but I stopped.

High in one tree, way up, there was one single yellow leaf all by itself out on the end of a twig. It hung there, very still. It caught my eye because it was brightly lit against the blue of the sky by the shaft of the sun.

I watched it for a time, standing as I was in the quiet yellow of the aftermath of the blizzard. That leaf seemed almost to be making up its own mind. That leaf had hung on tight while the wind buffeted it, and while all its friends had let go and had flown. That leaf had hung on, waiting, maybe thinking something through.

What was the something that leaf was thinking through?

Perhaps its allegiance to the Lord.

Everyone else among its leaf friends had known what was right—what was manifest—to do. Everyone else had said, “We are a tide of Christian consciousness sweeping joyfully through the air and then covering the landscape of the Lord.” And they had done just that.

I thought to myself, that last leaf is like we were, my wife and I, eleven years ago.

Then I laughed to myself. Of course, that leaf has no soul—it’s a leaf.

But, I thought, I am a writer and a chaser after metaphor. I have a soul. I have a soul, and—like my one leaf—I had hung on tight to my anchoring point during my wife’s and my nine months of soul struggle, whether to press beyond Judaism toward our rebirth in Christ.

We had hung on, battling that stormy struggle through.

Yes or no?

To deny or to accept?

To let go and to go?

Or not to let go?

And—just as I reached this point in the framing of my thought—up there above me, after the end of the wind storm, that last yellow leaf let go.

As we had, too.

I watched that last yellow leaf flutter peacefully all the way down until it nestled comfortably with its yellow fellows.

​Finally at one with the Lord.

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Dikkon Eberhart

[Sometimes I am approached by those who want to write a book. Often their excitement is delightful. When it is their first attempt, they may not be as alert to the difficulties of writing a book as I wish they could be. I don't want to discourage them, but I don't want them to be blind-sided either.

[I posted a piece like this a few years ago and thought I'd update it now because these encounters continue to happen.]

You came to me and said you want to write a book.

I applaud you. I’m excited about your excitement. May your excitement carry you through.

Yes, you can do this. Here’s one way to write a book. Sit down and write five pages each day for two months.

How hard can that be? Only five pages. Only two months.

It’ll take discipline, but in sixty days, you’ll have a manuscript that is 300 pages long.

My most recent book that I had published also came from a manuscript that was about 300 pages long. However—different from you—writing that book took me ten years!

The new book I am close to completing has taken about two years, and that includes the one year during which I knocked off writing all together because I couldn’t figure out how to pay attention both to my family and to the book at the same time, for the benefit of each.

When you are done with your two-month manuscript, then I will be happy for you as a person.

I will be happy because evidently you are a person who has had a very strong sense of three things during your past two months.

Here's the first thing you have been aware of -- where your book came from inside of you.

Here's the second thing -- where your book was each day, while you pushed it along, page after page.

And here's the third and most important thing -- where your book was going to end up--that is, what it is about.

That’s impressive; very.

I had none of those assurances while I wrote any of my four books. I thought I had, but I needed to write much of the books over and over again to work these issues out, especially the third issue--what is this book about?

You are able to work quicker than me; good for you!

However long it ends up taking you—whether two months or maybe three—one day, your manuscript will be done.

Or anyway you’ll think it is done.

Because it had better be done.

Because you really, seriously need it to be done.

You really, seriously need it to be done because your brain will hurt just as my brain hurts when I am done. My brain hurts with a hurt that isn’t assuaged by two fingers of bourbon and a night’s hard sleep.

My brain hurts because, now having re-read my whole manuscript five times over again since I deemed that it was done, I still can’t tell whether it’s any good or not.

It's done, yes, but is it any good?

Maybe you’re different. Probably you are different because it only took you only two months to write your 300 pages. It’s likely that you do know your book is good.

By the time I finish my new book, I will not want even to see one more word. Nor will I want to create anything with words. All I will want to do is to absorb.

Even the smallest act of creating with words will make my brain hurt. Instead of creating, I will desire to absorb that which has already been created…and not by me.

I would gaze upon that which is pure, and upon that which, being pure, is holy.

Perhaps I would gaze on that which is holy with the same intensity as that beachcombing, rusticating, French painter, Paul Gauguin, when he gazed, in the 1890s, on the maidens of the far South Sea. Those same maidens were the ones he used as icons while he wondered upon his canvas, wondering at his answer to the same three questions you mastered during your two-month book— Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

After my most recent book was published, we moved from Maine to the Blue Ridge of SW Virginia. We chased our first three grandchildren—now there’s another one there and one in New York, too.

Pretty soon after the move, I started out trying to capture the voice for my next book, the book I’m somewhere close to (maybe, possibly) finishing now.

Took me a while to get it right—took writing three times deep into that book to decide what is the voice that should tell it—and now does. I discarded the others.

Each writing-into-it brought me closer to understanding what my book is really about, since each of the now rejected earlier voices told the story in a lesser way than the present more robust and straight-forward voice does.

I envy you if you knew what your book was really about from the get-go. Lotta people don’t, like me.

Regarding your book—indeed you may finish your book in two months. People do. I hope you do, proving that you know the answer to these three vital theological, literary, and practical questions, and that you can work your answers into the weft and warp of your tale.

Write it all down, my friend.

Write it all down and tell us about it.

We need to know.

Thank you...and--I mean this deeply--may you prosper!

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