heard it said that writing is 90 percent perspiration and 10 percent
inspiration. That really is the truth. At some point a writer has to
sit before his computer, his pad and pencil, or, in my case, my tape
recorder and just start to write—to communicate, to share ideas, to
entertain, to motivate. Ah, yes, and maybe to sell the work.
When I attended Providence
College, my English 101 professor told us that writing was concrete,
specific, diction, connotation, and figures. That’s sort of like
algebra. I mean, I haven’t thought that way as a writer for over forty
years. Remember algebra? X over Y equals . . . what? Oh, really?
Writing is feeling. Writing is
sound. Writing is rhythm. Yes, it can be concrete and specific. There
can be connotation, diction, and wonderful figures. But the skill is
not in that kind of discipline. It comes from the heart, the soul, the
I remember the first story I
ever wrote, Three Seconds to Death. I was ten years
old writing about end-of-life experience. I can still hear the teacher
suggesting that maybe my next story should be some kind of a positive
expression of what I was feeling. But what interested me even then was
the suspense, engagement, and exploration of what it might be like to
fall from a cliff in the last three seconds of life. And I suppose
because I’m blind, there’s something Freudian in this idea. Growing up
I was afraid to step off a curb because I thought I might get run over.
It comes down to this. Writers
are complex people who work to turn the complexity of their psyches
into a work others can understand. I did that in many of my early books
because they were written, if I may say modestly, about me.
If You Could See What
my first book co-written with my special friend, Derek Gill, was about
my college life. It became a rather successful movie in the ’80s.
My children’s books, That
Nelson and Common Senses, try to teach
kids about how wonderful it would be to learn to use more than just
their sight when working to understand the world around them.
I developed Special
Parent, Special Child to help parents with special needs
children understand the pitfalls of education, social interaction, and
the potential opportunity for their disabled loved ones to live
independent and normal lives.
Adventures in Darkness,
my favorite work, is the story of my life during my eleventh summer,
when I struggled to find my place in a world of sighted kids and found
my first friend, Billy. It’s clearly my most personal work.
wrote Seeing Lessons: 14 Life Secrets I’ve Learned Along the
Way when I was finally old enough to put these thoughts on
paper. Maybe I need to be around sixty to be truly philosophical and
have something to offer the reader that’s more than just fluff.
Traveling down the writer’s
path, you decide to tackle fiction. My last three books have been
novels: Together, with friend
White; Alive Day; and my just released A
Short Life Well Lived. I should note that I had tried two
other novels earlier. My wife, Patty, hated them so much they now exist
only in memory.
the other thing about
writing. You need a great critic and a great friend. Patty has been the
best in both of those roles for forty-one years of
marriage—whoops!—forty-two. We just had an anniversary.
Even though my last three books
are novels, I’ve drawn on personal experience in the telling. They all
have a principal character who’s blind. They all engage in talking
about the human-animal bond. And most important, they all work to
understand the mysteries of faith—most particularly A Short
Life Well Lived. More than any work I’ve ever done, I am 100
percent convinced that God was on my shoulder during this writing.
It is the story of a family
whose little boy, Tommy, is diagnosed with Ewing’s carcinoma—a runaway
tumor that threatens to take his life. My blind character, Brian
O’Connor, cannot even begin to understand God’s role in his son’s
struggle but finds hope in a relationship developed with the hospital
chaplain as they train together for the Boston marathon in order to
raise money in support of kids with cancer.
Back to the original premise of
writing being 90 percent inspiration and 10 percent perspiration. What
if, just for conversation, God takes a hand? What do we call that? A
miracle. I humbly suggest that in this book I’m at my best as a writer,
and honestly, I’m really not as good as the storytelling found in these
So, you decide for yourselves.
Read a couple of my books. Test the
genre they express. And then read A Short Life Well Lived.
I’ll be very interested to learn if you agree with me.