The Song of Writing

Today I am thrilled to present a guest post from
writer Darrelyn Saloom. I n1005561355_30123934_2519.jpgmet Darrelyn at a
recent
Writer’s Digest Editor Intensive, along with Deirdre Gogarty. These two amazing women are collaborating on a memoir about Deirdre, who is the 1997 Women’s International Boxing Federation champion. You can follow Darrelyn on Twitter. (Photo shows Darrelyn in Cincinnati, with writers Barbara and Sean on either side, after the first day of the WD intensive event.)

It took me a long time to believe I could write. I’ve always enjoyed biographies and have read numerous lives of authors who lauded an educator in adolescence as their source of inspiration—a flash of insight burst forth while reading lines of dead poets: Shakespeare, Emerson, Dickinson, Keats. But no such teacher manifested for me in my teens or twenties (that would come later). For me, the muse bloomed with poetical songwriters of my generation: Smokey Robinson, Johnny Rivers, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Carol King.

But it was my father, an encyclopedia salesman, who first planted the melodic seed. Filled with wanderlust, he never stopped traveling. Life with Daddy was spent in the backseat of a book-laden car, absorbing adventurous yarns, chirping along to Peter, Paul, and Mary. My Kentucky-born father crooned Stanley Brothers’ tunes and recited “The Raven.” Poe blended into a folk song of enchantment. So it was in the backseat of Daddy’s Ford Thunderbird (where my sisters and I hid kittens and candy) that I fell in love with the imagery of words, the rhythms of poetry, the song of writing.

But falling in love was easy. Hard was to realize I wanted to write. Harder was to believe that I could. The writers I craved were distinguished professors of the humanities. Columbia University PhDs or graduates and teachers of MFA programs; I had no degrees. I dropped out of high school, hitchhiked from the Louisiana bayous to the Oregon coast, picked beans on a farm, married young (and often) and birthed a family. But I grew restless for something unknown to me.

So I went to college in my thirties. I never finished. But now I could lay claim to teachers of literature and writing who encouraged me. Into my forties I continued to read and to study: The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, Glimmer Train, and—yes—Writer’s Digest (long before I ever met Jane Friedman). Circled words, underlined phrases and sentences, lists of definitions littered the backs of my books and magazines. I studied libraries on writing and punctuation, even The Chicago Manual of Style.

When I began to write narrative, my restlessness ceased. But did I believe in my ability? The stories I wrote were printed and stuffed into folders and drawers. A few were lost on an old hard drive. Yes, I was still intimidated by the MFAs and PhDs and only wrote for friends and family. But even with their praise, I did not believe in my ability. Belief would have to wait. (And to make things worse, I was about to turn fifty.)

Unable to submit my stories, I printed business cards and worked as a freelance editor. I excelled at spotting clients’ errors, picking apart proposals and briefs. Red ink pen in hand changed me. It improved my writing by opening my eyes to writers’ mistakes. Taught me that writing is a place I can never be impatient or lazy. For a writer must never stop learning. As for intimidation, it has started to slip away. Because now I know it’s hard work that conjures words into music and not a degree.

Here are two verses my father would often sing. I’ve started to wonder if he knew that one day (years after his passing) the lyrics would serve to sustain me. I can still hear his voice.

    If I had the wings of an angel
    O’er these prison walls I would fly
    I would fly to the arms of my lover
    And there I would lie till I die

    Oh, meet me tonight in the moonlight
    Meet me tonight all alone
    For I have a sad story to tell you
    It’s a story that’s never been told

(Researching this old ballad, I found as many versions as strings on three guitars. So I stuck to the only two verses and lyrics my father taught me when I was only two or three. It took me nearly fifty years to grasp that as a writer “belief” is like an angel’s wings. If you, too, struggle to believe in your writing ability, I hope this will inspire you to grow some wings and tell your stories.)

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0 thoughts on “The Song of Writing

  1. deborah cutler

    When restlessness ceases you know you’re in that timeless state where inspiration lives. I believe this
    state is "heaven on earth." We all strive to be in that place. Thank you Darrelyn for that reminder.

  2. Jenny Kane

    Thank you Darrelyn!

    I relate to that feeling of restlessness. I was so inspired to read about your journey as writer. It reminded me that it is a journey that takes hard work, honesty and dedication.

    What beautiful lyrics you have to carry with you and what a beautiful gift your Daddy gave you.

    I can’t wait to read the memoir and more of your work!

    Jenny

  3. Claudia Ross

    Thank you for your article. Your father was a great man, which I do not have to tell you! Could he ever have known that by driving his daughter around the country selling encyclopedia’s would inspire a great writer and editor?

    Writing is a gift. It is the ability to listen and translate to paper. It is the ability to breathe life into characters, making them real, whether fictitious or not. Anyone can learn the mechanics of writing, but to have that special gift, well I believe it to be God given. Not all of us have it, but I believe that you do. I found myself on the backseat besides you.

    I love the song. It seems to be the song of my heart.

    Thanks again,

    Claudia

  4. Brenda Mantz

    Great Post. Loved the line – For me, the muse bloomed with poetical songwriters of my generation

    Reminds me that writing is not merely what I do it is the evidence of my every thought- every feeling – come to life.

  5. Ray Juracek

    Your father is smiling down at a daughter with great talent! Your verses are the same that I learned when I was young. Small world. Keep up the good work, I’m sure your book will be a success.

    Best to you and yours, Ray

  6. Carolyn Patin-Jones

    Wonderful! It was emotional and inspiring. I would love to read more of your work. Do you have anything you might want to share?

  7. Kris Porotsky

    Great post! I hope your book takes off and you prove it can be done to the rest of us who are still mired in the "intimidated" stage of our writing careers! I can relate to wondering if my writing has potential. I have the bug… but do I have the talent? (I got a lot out of Alice Pope’s manuscript evaluation at the same WD conference you were at, and she didn’t run me out of town… so maybe there’s hope!)

    Best of luck!

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