Tag Archives: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Longing For a Pond

In times of hardship or extreme interference, it can be helpful to the writing process to adopt mottoes. Anything that will boost our fragile writer egos and keep us going, right?


Here’s one that I’ve always liked: Illegitimi non carborundum.

It’s catchy. It looks swanky and erudite if you post it on your wall or desk. It’s even possible to remember so that you can mutter it beneath your breath as you put up with yet another distraction.

Translation: a quote from a Kris Kristofferson song with the lyrics “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

The language: pseudo-Latin cooked up as a joke to make us smile when things get tough.

People who enjoy such things have also translated the saying into real Latin. Here are two versions: Noli sinere nothos te opprimere, and Noli nothis permittere te terere.

So what … is … the … point?

The Thanksgiving holiday gave me a much-needed respite, a little time off to loaf, visit family, and relax. On the nine-hour drive home I left the radio off and just experienced the peace of my own thoughts. About halfway through the journey, I decided to solve a minor plot hiccup in my current work-in-progress.

I gave it some thought and came up with a solution. With no distractions except keeping my eyes on the road and minding my mirrors, I found it easy to decide on a plausible, simple motivation for this particular character’s actions.

The problem has been that I’ve been home for two days. Forty-eight hours have gone by, and I’ve yet to find a moment to jot down my solution, much less actually write it into the manuscript.

All I can do is be thankful for the peace and quiet around me when I thought it up. That’s enabled me to be very clear in my mind about what I want my character to do. The clarity has stamped it firmly on my memory. So often, when I’m plotting while on the run in my daily course, I forget what I came up with. Too distracted to remember more than, I HAD it, and it was perfect!

Yesterday, while heaving groceries through my front door, I found myself thinking of Thoreau and longing for a pond of my own. Oh, Walden, Walden, wherefore art thou and why can’t I have you?

There was a time, a long-ago age, when poets and bards had patrons who fed them in exchange for good stories. It wasn’t a perfect system. What system is? Were these storytellers given a chance to gnaw on their quill pens in peace while they cooked up the next installment of “The Distress of the Dying Damsel?”

I’d like to think so, but the cynical side of me wonders if maybe they weren’t wedged into a corner of the Great Hall with their lord and master yelling at his minions and belching over the stewed onions while a pack of flea-bitten hounds bayed at the cat crouched in the rafters.

Well, okay. Let’s choose someone from a more civilized age. Nathaniel Hawthorne was surely left in peace. No emails to answer. No text messages beeping for attention. No minivan of children clamoring for soccer games and piano recitals. Just a gabled house and a snowy afternoon, the quiet drawn close like a warm shawl around the shoulders.

Maybe. I’m going to think so. Surely Mr. Hawthorne wasn’t afflicted with the butcher pounding on the door to be paid or termites in his attic.

I need some hope that someday, somehow I’ll find a way to enforce more of that peace and quiet, that mental space around me similar to what I enjoyed on my long drive home.

I need that pond. I need someone to deliver my groceries in silence. I need all the paperwork, bank statements, and mail to blow to the winds of perdition for a while. I need the housework done. I need the dogs washed and the Christmas tree put up. I need the larger battery backup connected to my writing computer. I need a thousand hours to my day. And I would like more chocolate in my life, thank you.

Meanwhile, I’m hunting for a scrap of paper so I can write down that character motivation …


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