The Tenacity of Robert Montgomery

I graduated high school in the early 1980s with an odd fellow called Robert Montgomery. We shared a first period interior design class. Here’s how I remember him: effeminate, floppy haired and overly eager to include me in his movie. The aviator glasses he wore, popular at that time, were tinted amber.

Before class began, he’d amble back to my workstation and ask me in an enthusiastic voice to show up after school to film a scene in which he felt I just had to be in. His sci-fi thrillers didn’t interest me, and I always politely declined. Undeterred, he’d somersault down the aisle back to his own desk, causing our classmates to giggle at his antics. This happened every single morning that spring of 1981.

I never participated in any of his movies, but I’ve often thought about him over the years. When a film I’ve watched concludes, I search for his name scrolling by among the long list of credits. Surely someone so determined must have made his dreams a reality. I hope so.

But more than his antics and dogged cheerfulness, what struck me was his fierce determination to create, despite what others might say. (Many teased him or mocked him, rolling down those aisles.) He loved creating, and went after what he wanted, no matter the cost to his teenage reputation.

When I sit down to write, Robert Montgomery often comes to mind, challenging me. Am I pushing myself, or playing it safe? Is that adverb necessary or just propping up a weak verb? Am I afraid of what others might think? One of my mentors, Joshua Mohr, would urge me, “Be savage on the page.”

John Dufresne wrote in The Lie That Tells A Truth that we must challenge each aspect of our work. Challenge the first paragraph. The last paragraph. Each word choice. Search out pet phrases, or passive voice. Karate chop clichés. Make adjectives stand trial. As Isaac Babel wrote in his “Guy de Maupassant” essay, published in Narrative Magazine’s Spring 2009 issue, “You have to keep your eye on the job because the words are very sly, the rubbishy ones go into hiding and you have to dig them out…Only a genius can afford two adjectives to one noun.” Now, each time I write a sentence containing two adjectives, I hear a voice in my head, whispering, “So you think you’re a genius?” Then I cut one of them. Sometimes.

shutterstock_123861328If you’re like me, you might be feeling discouraged at this point. Don’t be. Think of that shitty first — or seventh — draft as a lump of clay or hunk of marble. You need the raw materials from which to carve or sculpt a — ahem — masterpiece. Just as important as where to place your chisel and how hard to tap the mallet are your word choice, point of view, character arc, pacing and plot. These tools, used with precision, yield your art.

You can’t give up. Neil Gaiman says, “When things get tough, make good art.” (For inspiration, watch Neil’s 2012 commencement speech at the University of the Arts.) Just like I’d like to believe Robert Montgomery never stopped asking, or creating, you and I must show up, do strong work and keep at it until it’s right. Search out mentors, read craft books, and find encouragement.

Because it’s far harder to be an artist who can’t create than one who will. Just ask Robert Montgomery, the guy who daily somersaulted away, rejected, but not dejected. He held onto a dream that one day the answer would be, “Yes.”

Online Editor’s Note: Three additional favorite craft books are Jane Burroway’s “Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft,” Stephen King‘s “On Writing,” and Anne Lamott‘s “Bird by Bird.” What is your favorite go-to craft book or source of inspiration?

I Resolve…

red resolutions

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~ Anais Nin

shutterstock_111393362The new year stretches before each of us like a blank page or newly stretched canvas. What will you do with your year ahead to push yourself to blossom and create? I’ll be honest: I prefer making goals rather than resolutions. Goals can be achieved and measured. There’s accountability, if only to myself. Because written goals are more likely to be accomplished, I’ll share a few of mine with you. As 2014 fades into memory, pull out your own pen, rip out a clean sheet of paper, and jot down your own goals. A year from now, what do you resolve to have completed?

Write More. Commit to getting words on the page. As Neil Gaiman said, “Embrace your fear of failure. Make peace with the impostor syndrome that comes with success. Don’t be afraid of being wrong.”

  • Join other writers at The Writer’s Center.
  • Attend a writing retreat someplace like The Porches.
  • Consider personal goals and do a weekly check-in with an accountability buddy.

Submit. A key to publication is submissionLittle Patuxent Review‘s deadline for our summer edition is March 1. Focusing on a submission goal and setting deadlines for myself works for me. How about you?

shutterstock_116035345Read Less. This may sound counterproductive, but I want to select books which inspire me to become a better writer. These novels or short stories are the kind I’ll want to savor, possibly analyze, and discuss.

Attend Readings. Hearing authors read from their novels, and learning about their process helps me feel part of a tribe. Listening lifts me up when I’m in the throes of darkness, hearing that gremlin who resides under my bed, whispering, “You think you’re a writer?”

  • January  15: J.M Tyree and Elizabeth Kadetsky , two authors selected as Vogue’s “best under-the-radar reads” share their most recent work, at The Ivy Bookshop, 7 p.m., FREE.
  • January 24: Little Patuxent Review Winter 2015 Launch Reading, 2-4 p.m., FREE
  • February 7: An Irish Evening with Emma Donoghue at the Smith Theatre, 7:30 p.m., Tickets required
  • March 3: Michael Salcman,”The Enemy of Good is Better” at The Ivy Bookshop, 7 p.m., FREE

View more Art. I’m a big fan of the artist date, where I step away from my own work to view others’ art. This act of appreciation fills me with gratitude and inspires me to work longer and harder at my own craft. What methods to you use to refill your own artistic well?

From all of us at Little Patuxent Review, thank you for a wonderful 2014.

Happy New Year.