The Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez is most known for his work 100 Years of Solitude and Love in a Time of Cholera. This past year on my golden birthday, I received the autobiography of his called Living to Tell the Tale. What is strange about this birthday gift is that I received it from a woman here in Suzhou who is also a writer, but I am pretty sure she has no idea that I plan on moving to Colombia in two years. To me, it seems that divine providence has put this book into my hands and is just another act of happenstance guiding me down the path to Colombia. I asked her why she gave me this book and she responded with, “Since reading this book, it has inspired me to travel and really live life.” And, so, I decided to give it a read and I just finished it.
Gabriel García Márquez
Wow is probably the first word that comes to mind after reading this book. I have never read an autobiography before—I guess that’s another new thing I can put onto my growing list—but I’ve always wondered just how interesting someone’s life has had to have been for an autobiography. I can certainly say that Gabriel Márquez has lived an interesting life and most of the story that he tells is only up to the age of twenty-seven when he attends a conference in Geneva, Switzerland which leaves me wondering about the life he lived afterward.
The book tells a tale of a man who never had a cent to his name most of his time until twenty-seven. In fact, IOUs were well-traded and well-received in those days of Colombia (some people even keep his as a memento to when he was poor). He was a man addicted to sex, smoking, and stories. He was a voracious reader who greedily gobbled every book he could get his hands on, an avid smoker consuming four to six packs per day, and details lots of his time in brothels or in the beds of women with husbands (one of which almost got him killed). He was a humble writer who never thought his work was good enough. And he lived through campus riots, a handful of death threats, assassinations, guerrilla warfare, and all of this lay the background to many articles he published through rotating jobs at the different newspaper venues of El Espectador, El Universal, El Nacional, and El Heraldo. Interwoven between all of this is a love story unlike any other; one that is truly magical and reminiscent of a fairy tale. Not only did all of this help create the stories for his newspaper, but also the life he lived (and even the life his parents lived) helped form the novels that have made him famous today.
Actually, reading this book brings me back to Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell just a little. The constant theme about that book is the tenacity and grit it takes to become successful. Moreover, you have to be persistent. Most of the isolated cases Gladwell looks at in his novel are success stories from ethnic people who are brought up with a work ethic given to them by their cultural identity. As a poor Colombian, the work ethic Márquez mentions in his book parallels this idea of success portrayed in Gladwell’s and it’s no wonder to me why Márquez succeeded in his writing to be one of the most well-known (if not most well-known) Colombian authors.
This book has reminded me of something that I feel I am missing as a writer. Consistency. Dissemination. Actually, I have consistency, I do write every day (whether that be a blog post or a novel). What I don’t have, however, is dissemination. This is a problem that I have always struggled with as an author, and I believe something that many authors struggle with. That’s what separates those who earn a living off writing and those who don’t. It also brings back to mind a piece of advice that I scrolled through while on message boards about the best ways an author can market their work. That advice, brief and concise, was: “Keep writing.” Having read this book and remembering that phrase has now induced a sort of mental epiphany now that has inspired me to write this blog post.
And that epiphany is this: While writing a novel is impressive, it is also the slowest way of building my audience and establishing my career as a writer.
I should be focused on more short-term pieces and publishing them in magazines, newspapers, the internet, etc. If it’s good, it’ll be published, I’ll receive short-term cash (enough to fund my next short-story), but most importantly, it will get my name out to readers. If they like my work, then they will research me and find out that I have novels published and a series underway The Guardian of the Core.
This idea is so simplistic that I am rather mad about not really recognizing the opportunity earlier as by the time he was twenty-seven Gabriel Márquez had over 600 articles written and a few short stories published. That is an incredible amount of writing. In fact, he mentions that many people around Colombia knew him and of his work because he was so consistent in his writing and the newspapers he worked for had quite good dissemination (selling out within a few hours most times).
More importantly, however, this would push me out of my comfort zone and force me to think in a concise manner. This is that Zone of Proximal Development, I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts. The area where we grow the most. By writing more short stories or even articles for newspapers, I will grow in my career as an author. Short stories have a much different plot structure than novels or novellas and flash-fiction (fiction below 500 words) is even more confined.
Moving forward, short stories is something that I will continually be working on as well, with a goal of getting one finished every month or two months, and with the hopes of publishing something perhaps twice a year in the short-story market. Actually, this fits along well with my mission statement I’ve given to myself based off of the 7 Habits book I’ve mentioned before because I am writing AND ADDING to the literary world.
This doesn’t mean I am abandoning my work on the Guardian of the Core. On the contrary, I have already calculated the amount of work I need to put into it daily in order to meet my goal by my 30th birthday (June 29, 2020) which is to have the first draft of the final book written. All in all, writing comes down to persistence definitely, but the ability to manage time as well and know how much to write and how long to write.
A few days ago, a friend who is interested in writing more asked me one day where I get my inspiration from. I replied to her that most of it is from traveling, sure, but that one can never wait for inspiration in order to start writing. That is why persistence, moreover grit, is required to be successful in any venue, certainly, but most definitely as an author. Books just don’t write themselves after all.
Adding to that idea of inspiration is a quote I stumbled upon recently from Stephen King that goes: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” That’s to say that we need to be dedicated in our writing, and our best writing, those unforgettable pages, are when we happen to be writing and inspiration finds us and enters us.
This book has also made me realize that I should start keeping a journal. Or perhaps, I should record more of my daily life or travels so that I have something to look back on when I am older and perhaps creating a memoir of my own. Perhaps it would be one that goes unpublished in the literary world, but one I could hand down to my children or grandchildren at some point in time.
At the end of the book, Márquez hasn’t convinced me of the need to travel like my friend—I already knew that. Nevertheless, what he has done is put inside me the desire to continue living this extraordinary life that I am living, keeping true to my values and myself because we never know what the future holds in store for us. For me, that could be Colombia in two years if God so wills it. It could be in Europe. Maybe even staying in China or going back to the States. I don’t know what life has in store for me; Márquez I’m sure never knew he would be as successful as he was, but the underlying motif in his book is “living.” Perhaps that is why it is called “Living to Tell the Tale.” And, sometimes I don’t think we do enough of that. We get caught in a routine or a rut or feel trapped by circumstances without truly ever appreciating or taking a second to step back from our situation and realize that we decide how we live.
It’s as simple as that.