How often we writers find every possible excuse not to do what we want other people to think we do–write. We are too tired, too busy, too sick, too constrained by our environment, or too limited in getting ideas. We are like the recalcitrant student whose imagination runs wild thinking up excuses for not doing his homework.
History has produced some exemplars who overcame every imaginable excuse for not writing. They wrote in spite of problems and constraints. In fact, some of them wrote even better because of their problems, finding grist for their writer’s mill in the very experiences they endured. If we consider even a few of them, we will hang our heads in shame and then renew our commitment to do what we’re supposed to be doing–writing.
In the next several posts, I’ll be considering a few of those exemplars, and I hope that they will be a prod to your own writing productivity.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn was arrested for having criticized Stalin (referring to him by a pseudonym) in a letter to a friend late in World War II. He was beaten and interrogated at the infamous Lubyanka Prison in Moscow before being sentenced to eight years of hard labor in 1945. In 1950, he was transferred to a camp for political prisoners in Kazakhstan to complete the last three years of his sentence. That place and the hardships he suffered there became the setting for his short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962).
After Solzhenitsyn completed his sentence, however, he was immediately sentenced to perpetual exile in southern Kazakhstan. During that exile, he was treated for cancer in Tshkent. He wrote stories and plays in his spare time before being freed and returning to European Russia in 19856. But he used his experiences to create another great work, Cancer Ward (1962).
Solzhenitsyn might have not nothing of note published, however, had it not been for Nikita Khrushchev. In 1956, Khrushchev made a speech to the Communist Party in which he denounced Stalin and his repressive practices. That began a period of “destalinization” in the Soviet Union, during which Solzhenitsyn was able to have some of his works published, albeit not without a lot of arguing among the Communist leaders. In the end Khrushchev himself allegedly cast the deciding vote that allowed the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
But the political winds shifted again during the mid-1960s as Khrushchev’s star dimmed and that of Leonid Brezhnev arose. Solzhenitsyn’s publications were first delayed, then they were canceled, and eventually his manuscripts were confiscated. But he managed to get some of them smuggled to the West, where they were published. In 1970, Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize in literature, but he was forced to decline it because he feared that if he left the Soviet Union to accept the prize, he would not be allowed to return. Yet, he continued to write and get his manuscripts smuggled out of the Soviet Union for publication abroad. Most notable was his novel The Gulag Archipelago (1973), an expose of the Soviet prison camp system. That led to his arrest and his being charged with treason. He was deprived of his Soviet citizenship and deported to West Germany. He lived for a time in Zurich, where he wrote feverishly and prolifically.
In 1975, Solzhenitsyn moved to Cavendish, Vermont, and he lived there for the next twenty years. He also opened up about the significance of Christianity to his own worldview and sought to warn the West of the dangers posed by Communism. But Mother Russia was still in his heart, and during the 1980s period of glasnost finally permitted the publication of his works in his native land. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, his citizenship was restored, and he returned home in 1995. He died in 2008, after a lifetime of doing what he was called to do–write.
What’s your (and my) excuse for not writing?