Me and Tolstoy

My son Chris called earlier this morning. I told him I was just about to start writing and had penned more than a thousand words on my novel yesterday. He congratulated me on my work ethic (or something) and I thought, why don’t I do that every day?

Indeed. Why don’t I do that every day? If I had done that since beginning this work months ago, I would now have content comparable to War and Peace in length, if not in quality.

How did Tolstoy do it?

I  wondered about the distractions that Tolstoy might have faced in his day. No temptation to check social media, of course, which is where I went to spend twenty minutes or so reading about his life. I learned that after partying too much in college and having a number of jobs and escapades, he finally got married and settled down to run the family estate. His dad had been a prince and with all of this being before the Russian revolution, the Tolstoys were living pretty high.

When Leo became disillusioned with farming and tired of badgering his serfs, he decided to focus on his writing. He retired to his study and relied on his wife, ten-or-so children, and a staff of (indentured?) servants to manage the estate. Tolstoy didn’t have any domestic chores or other pressing business matters to hinder his powers of concentration. I must admit, though, that even without having to personally look after their needs, having ten kids must have been disruptive at times.

Tolstoy chess
A grumpy Tolstoy is distracted from writing when one of his many sons wants to play chess.

I would rather mow my own grass than have ten kids.

So we’ve established that I’m no Tolstoy, in more ways than we can begin to enumerate.

But what about those contemporary writers who are so prolific? Mary Higgins Clark, for example, has written thirty-seven best selling suspense novels, four collections of short stories, one historical novel, a couple of children’s books, and has co-authored several more books with her daughter Carol and others.

Now, Mary’s not Tolstoy, either. But I have great respect for her hard work and success.

Stephen King is another remarkably fertile writer. He’s a marvel! King has written so many books, short stories, poems, scripts, etc., it’s hard to get an accurate count. I could venture a guess as I write this today, but it’s just as likely to be incorrect five minutes after I hit “publish” when he releases another story. On one website I counted about one hundred books, plus another seven under the pen name of Richard Bachman, and then I gave up when the site started listing short stories and poems and such.

Stephen King guitar
Sometimes Stephen King stops writing long enough to play in a band called the Rock Bottom Remainders with Amy Tan and other writers.

In fact, King makes Higgins Clark look like a slacker, which makes me look like, oh, a fourth grader trying to scribble her first book report?

But Stephen King isn’t Tolstoy either. Even Dostoevsky isn’t Tolstoy, although people do occasionally get them mixed up.

While we’re at it, I’m also not David Sedaris or Pearl S. Buck or Jane Austen or Ann Patchett or Jess Walter or Gina Barreca or James Herriott or Domingo Martinez or Alice Munro or Sue Monk Kidd or Thrity Umrigar or Anthony Doerr or Paul Theroux or . . . .

Well, the list of writers whose work I love and admire is endless. Those are just a few. A tiny taste.

Rich and Stripy
And I get distracted when Little Richard wants me to play with him and his Stripey.

Does it stand to reason that someone who LOVES LOVES LOVES to read, inevitably dreams of becoming a writer? I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, but it’s true for me. I never imagined myself writing fiction, but I’m giving it a shot. I think my book is pretty funny, so far. And if I ever knuckle down and finish it, I hope people will like it and – wonder of wonders! – that it could actually be published.

Just like a real writer. Wowser.

It won’t be Tolstoy. It won’t be King or Higgins Clark or Austen or Martinez or Theroux or any of those remarkably talented story-tellers. But I guess just being me might end up being okay, too.


17 thoughts on “Me and Tolstoy

  1. I think it’s great that you are writing a book. I can barely get motivated sometimes to even write a blog post. I am someone who loves to read and has thought it would be nice to be an author, but it is not to be. I’ve always said the only way I would ever have a book in me is to eat one.

    1. Thank you! I have to tell you, I didn’t even consider fiction until last year . . . and I was 65. You never know! And being semi-retired, I no long have the excuse that I’m too busy. Of course, I don’t have Tolstoy’s serfs to help out around the house, but still. 🙂

  2. Love, love, love! You captured what all writers think, I think, except for Tolstoy, of course. But it’s all relative: You have published four blogposts since I saw you–and I’ve only written one! So, great job, Kate Mahar! And fiction! Wow. If Tolstoy were alive today, he’d say, “Well, I did write a long book, but I’m no Kate Mahar!”

  3. “I would rather mow my own grass than have 10 kids” made me laugh out loud, Kate. Good for you for writing fiction and I cannot imagine your fiction being devoid of humor. You are on fire! Keep up the good work and soon we’ll be reading your work. In the form of a book!

  4. “But I guess just being me might end up being okay too.” And no one can be you like you! I can’t wait to follow more with Daphne. Keep in writing.

  5. And Harper Lee only published one – “To Kill a Mockinbird.” (I’m not counting “Go Set a Watchman,” since her estate published that one, and who knows how she would have felt about it! Quality not quantity can also be a good mantra. Keep plugging-away at that novel. I look forward to reading it!

    1. Thanks, Ellen! There was an elderly lady in Ohio who published her first, and possibly only, novel at about the age of 80. It was called “And the Ladies of the Club” by Helen —- I don’t remember. I am going to try to get this done before I’m Helen’s age! Maybe . . . .

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