The Old Man and The Pen

A young man in his late twenties decided to become a writer.

At the beginning of the pursuit of his craft, he sought out all the writing advice he could find. He attended writing workshops, went to many parties of a literary nature, drove far into the woods seeking the wisdom of writing retreats, and read countless books on writing by countless other writers.

After several years, he began to despair. He seemed to have found the correct knowledge, and a few seemingly valuable contacts along the way, but he hadn’t yet written anything of consequence.

He felt very validated by a number of his very nice friends in his Thursday night writing circle, but he couldn’t keep down the horror in his gut that something was going terribly wrong.

He was having a good time.

There were the parties, the drink, the pills, the long conversations about art and writing, and there was always the great sex. A lot of it.

Somewhere in his middle thirties, the not-so-young writer looked around and realized that not too much actual writing was getting done. This confused him, because his entire circle of friends were “writers” after all.

On a particularly starry Thursday night, the phone rang at 11:03 pm pacific time, and he did not answer it. It rang again, and again, and four more times before midnight. He did not answer it.

He merely sat at his desk staring at a blank sheet of paper. He managed to get 133 words down before sunrise. It was a bad feeling to have accomplished so little — while also missing out on the booze and the sex — but it was a much better feeling than anything he could remember in years.

So, he did it again the next night, and the next. And he kept going like that for another forty-two years.

A few weeks before his death, a reporter asked the old writer for his secret.

He held up a worn Bic pen, “If there is a secret, it’s in here somewhere, swirling around in all that black ink. It spills down on the page, and something happens, or it doesn’t, and so you spill more of it to try and find your way.”

“What if I use a keyboard instead of a pen?” the reporter said.

“Don’t get cute with me kid, same damn thing,” the writer said, “slow and steady, the tools don’t matter.”

He hadn’t become extremely famous or incredibly wealthy, he hadn’t won any international awards or even made a single bestseller list. Those things, he said, were “not up to me, not in my control, or yours.” But, over the course of many years, he had built an unimpeachable reputation, a vast audience, and a very good living.

He could not say what became of his old “writing” friends, but he was grateful that they had eventually driven him straight into the arms of his chosen craft.

You can outlast the other guys if you try. If you stick at stuff that bores them, it accrues. Drip, drip, drip you win.
~ Seth Godin

About the author

Robert Bruce

By day, Robert Bruce runs Rainmaker.FM. In his off hours, he files unusually short stories to the Internet.

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