He Wrote in Spite of Problems–What’s Our Excuse?
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.
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.
What’s your (and my) excuse for not writing?