Brawling with Books


Mark E. Smith

The prevalence of alcoholism and drug abuse of many great writers, both past and present, is unmistakable, as is their urge to travel, expatriation in some cases. From Hemingway to Boroughs to Bourdain, our best writers have all sought escape in their lives. Why is that?

As a writer, I can tell you that the answer is, fear – and escapism from it. Spaulding Gray’s monologue – turned into a 1992 film – Monster in a Box, chronicled his emotional struggles to finish his first novel. In fact, on March 7, 2004, Gray committed suicide, a bout of depression that those close to him say was triggered by his struggles in writing his latest book.

See, many don’t realize the fear that most true writers have toward writing. If you’ve been in a bad relationship, knowing that leaving would lead to success, but you couldn’t find the courage to do it, that’s what sitting down to write is like. If you’ve been dissatisfied with your job, knowing that you could do better elsewhere, but were scared to make that leap, that’s what sitting down to write is like. Or, if you’ve ever wanted to diet and exercise, but were intimidated to start because of the commitment required, that’s what sitting down to write is like. It’s simply the fear of failure that stops many in their tracks, causing them to seek diversions or escapes instead of assuming accountability and just accomplishing the task at hand.

But, not me. At the age of 23, I met with a book publisher, and he verbally tore my manuscript to shreds, calling it “amateurish,” and I thought, I’ve spent two years writing this with nothing more than a belief that I could do it, so call me what you will – but, in my mind, I’ve had the courage to do it, and that’s all the validation I need….

“But, there’s more to this story,” he continued. “You might just be among the most fearless writers I’ve ever met, so let’s see if you’ve got the balls to take this manuscript from good to great – and, if you do, I’ll publish it.”

From that day forward, fearless was my only way of writing. I may fail miserably in the attempt – and I have at times – but fear will never stop me ultimately succeeding.

And, so this past spring, when I embarked on my most ambitious book project to date, a part of me thought, How am I going to pull this off? Yet, a bigger part of me was like, Man, I’ve published over 1,000 formal pieces, with five books under my belt – I can do this….

The concept was to capture the birth, evolution, current state, and future of complex rehab – and, most importantly, tell the stories behind the story in an astoundingly compelling way. In my mind, it was like setting out writing The Social Network (the story behind Facebook) – that is, could I make what would seem a pretty mundane subject, and find the extraordinary in it? I remember one of my colleagues saying, “You’re the only one who can take this subject and make it fascinating.” Easier said than done, I thought. But, I was up to it.

With a dose of fearlessness, I went to work, tracing the roots, interviewing the individuals, and capturing the iconic moment of complex rehab, and it’s taken me on both an extraordinary professional and personal journey. At first it was intimidating and laborious, just a push to get through the first chapter. I remember saying to the woman working as my editor, I’m nine pages into this, and it isn’t getting easier. However, then I remembered that the best writing comes from fearlessness, and so I did what many in the complex rehab industry would view as a pretty bold move: I went to Ohio, rolled through the doors of Invacare, and sat one-on-one with Mal Mixon, in his office, for three hours, interviewing him about the evolution of complex rehab technology, Invacare having innovated several key technologies in the early 1980s. And, from there (with his sharing some pretty astounding never-told-before stories), I was like, Wow, these are the types of awe-inspiring first-person stories I need to write the book that I know that I can write – and, more importantly, the type of book that people won’t be able to stop reading.

From there, the writing and interviews snowballed, where I wasn’t writing from fear or pressure, but inspiration and passion. In no time this past spring, I had a book coming together that captivated me – one heck of a story unfolding. No, the manuscript won’t be done for about six more weeks at this writing, but I wake up seven days per week itching to squeeze in that day’s writing where I can.

In so many areas of life, fear dictates what we accomplish – or, don’t accomplish, as it is. However, when we put fear aside, and say, Yeah, I can do this regardless of the challenge, we will ultimately accomplish it. Replace fear and escapism with inspiration and passion, and you’ll be amazed where your goals will lead.


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

One thought on “Brawling with Books”

  1. The woman working as your editor knows this will be a terrific book. But remember, don’t forget to share the good and bad, the past, present, and possible future. Share bits of yourself as well as others. Be honest and bold. It’s going to be amazing, Toots!

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