Everybody Can Write One Good Book

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In 1990 or
thereabouts, I was a student at the Moscow
Linguistic University
, studying English, translation and interpretation.
Our teachers encouraged us to freelance, especially take jobs as
interpreters for Westerners visiting the Soviet Union. It was regarded
as a good way to brush up on your language skills as well as make
a little money on the side.

Since it was
still the centrally planned economy (albeit dying), most jobs were
available through state organizations such as the Soviet Peace Committee,
the Intourist (the official foreign travel company of the USSR),
the Union of Soviet Journalists, etc. One of my favorites was the
Union
of the Soviet Writers
. They often had extremely interesting
visitors — writers, literary critics, college professors, etc.

For those of
you who may not know it, the Union of the Soviet Writers was a very
important and influential organization. Unless you were a member,
your chances of publishing a book were slim to none. Also, you had
to be a member in order to claim writing as your occupation — this
needs some explaining. Every adult male in the USSR had to hold
an officially recognized job. Otherwise, one could be convicted
of "goldbricking" (тунеядство).
Married females were exempt — housewife (домохозяйка)
was considered to be a valid occupation. In practice, it meant that
a great writer (e.g. Solzhenitsyn) could be convicted and imprisoned
if he (a) was not a member of the Union of the Soviet Writers or
(b) did not hold any other job. Hence, many dissident writers held
day jobs as janitors, custodians, etc. — anything that would keep
one out of jail as well as leave plenty of time for writing.

But I digress.
Once, I worked as interpreter for a group of American literary critics.
Our group had a meeting at the Union. After the meeting ended, we
ran into Vladimir Karpov, a well-known Soviet writer. At the time,
he was an important functionary in the Writers Union (I think he
was the chairman but I am not completely sure). He was a WWII hero,
a reconnaissance officer. His teams' specialty was to cross the
front line under the cover of darkness and capture a German soldier,
or, preferably, an officer. These captured Germans were known as
"tongues" since they were interrogated to obtain tactical
information. Karpov was reportedly involved in capturing over seventy
"tongues." For his valor, Karpov received numerous military
awards. After the war, Karpov wrote an autobiographical novel titled
"The Fate of the Reconnaissance Officer" (Судьба
разведчика)
which was a big success. He went on to write numerous other books
and had a successful career as a functionary; however, his other
books are mostly forgotten.

Our meeting
was brief. Karpov said a few commonplace sentences about peace and
international friendship; soon thereafter, he pointed to a button
on his jacket and said that he was a deputy of the Supreme Soviet
(Council) of the USSR and had to go to an important meeting. I have
never seen him again.

The next time
I was at the Union, I asked lady clerks working in the international
department about Karpov. We all agreed that The Fate of the Reconnaissance
Officer was a good book — not because it was a great novel per
se, but because Karpov really had a wealth of fascinating war
experiences and he shared those in his best book. We also quietly
agreed that his other books were just glorified propaganda… those
ladies may not have held important positions, but they certainly
knew their literature!

During out
conversation, one lady shared a simple yet profound thought. In
a nutshell, she said that most anyone can write one good book, or
at least a few interesting and insightful articles. Most of us have
quite a few interesting experiences under our belts.

The problem
they often encountered at the Writers Union was a "been there,
done that" person who had written an autobiographical book,
which had some success, and then decided that he or she was a true
writer. All too often, a person had enough interesting stuff to
fill one book… but no more than one. Subsequent manuscripts would
more often than not contain no original material. Of course, once
a person decides she is writer, she is extremely difficult to dissuade.
Unfavorable reviews and rejections would trigger (it being the Soviet
Union) complaints to the Central Committee of the Communist Party,
accusations of surrender to capitalism, etc.

At the time,
I didn't appreciate this revelation, but I haven't forgotten it
either. The point is that while most of us will never rise to the
level of Shakespeare or Dostoyevsky, we still have a few interesting
ideas and/or experiences to share. So don't just let your stories
simmer inside your head and eventually die with you — share them
with the world! Write a blog or, better yet, send them to a respected
Web site such as LRC! If Lew chooses to publish your story, you
will gain instant visibility; many intelligent and thinking individuals
will read it. You will experience the sense of pride (as I did)
of seeing your work published alongside illustrious LRC contributors.
You will receive insightful responses from thoughtful readers and
the feel the incomparable satisfaction of knowing that you made
a contribution (although perhaps a tiny one) to the cause of human
freedom and dignity. Even if all you do is amuse and entertain the
reader, it's a worthy contribution too!

Even if Lew
rejects your article, it's no cause for despair. He may give you
some valuable hints. Perhaps, it needs a little more work. Perhaps,
LRC is not the right outlet for it, but it might be a great fit
somewhere else. But the most important thing is to remember that,
for the first time in human history, the voice of a common person
can truly be heard. The Internet has no Union of the Soviet Writers
presiding over it. Nor is it controlled by the wealthy mass media
owners, such as those who own major newspapers and TV networks,
pushing their special agendas. Find a place that is good for you
and make the world hear your voice. For millennia, hundreds of millions
lived and died without leaving a trace of their minds and souls.
In this day and age, we can finally reverse this unfortunate trend!

April
2, 2007

Sergei
Boukhonine [send him mail]
writes out of Austin TX.

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