My Three Addictions (5)

By learning the very different linguistic logics that are the bases for different languages, my ability to think was greatly expanded. By studying eastern languages, I came to understand the Asian way of looking at life, as reflected in the eastern religions and philosophies, in a way that no other means could have taught me. Most important, my understanding of English and how it works was illuminated.

That proved to be an immense help in writing. It allowed me to discover new ways to phrase an idea, to becomes sensitive to subtle differences in expression, and to use syntax and word order to convey poetic variation. For the first time I understood the emotional difference between “It is always with me” and “It is with me always.”

That brings me to my third addiction, writing.

I write because I have to. Not to write would be damnation. I don’t mean that in a religious sense. I mean that I was put on earth to write. Failure to write would mean betraying my purpose for being alive.

Writing fiction is the most difficult work I have ever done save writing poetry. But it is also the work I find most fulfilling. Nothing surpasses that moment when I finally get a sentence, a paragraph, a story, or a book right. And nothing pleases me more than when a reader responds to my writing.

I’m a slow writer. One of my books went through ten drafts and took fourteen years to complete. Something like 10 percent of my writing time is taken up with drafting new text; 90 percent is spent revising. I need to let written material “cool”—that is, putting it aside for some period of time before coming back to it to look at it with new eyes. For a story that means a month or so. For a novel that can mean as much as a year.

More tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “My Three Addictions (5)”

  1. Hey Boss man, you may think that you were put there to write, but I beg a differ with you. You were put there to do what you did for all those years for your Country, and most of all for those 43 beings that depended on your good judgement in April 1975. At least that’s the way I see it.


    1. Don, I’m moved. My feeling about what I did in Vietnam was that I had to do it. And toward the end, what kept me going was my determination that none of you guys would be killed when Saigon fell. I still think I was born to write, but saving lives is far more important. I think people do what they have to do. Had any of you guys died under my watch, I’d still be grieving and blaming myself. Thank you, Don. You touched a very important place in my soul.


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