Burning the candle at both ends beats sitting in the dark

Terry Border
Photo courtesy Terry Border http://www.bentobjects.blogspot.com

I’m burning the candle at both ends. I read and edit other people’s words for a living, and yet it’s come to me that it’s time to start focusing again on my own words. Finding the time is tough; it’s far easier to choose paying work over creative work that offers no guarantee of remuneration. And then there’s the other concern: At what point do the words I’ve read not begin to bleed into the words I write? At what point am I being creative and not derivative?

For the most part, every written phrase that’s ever come to mind and exited through the tips of my fingers has been a regurgitation of something I’ve read elsewhere. In just that sentence alone, I can already spot the Edgar Allan Poe influence, albeit not nearly as eloquently executed. But is it possible Poe did the same? When I read the great literary works of others and dissect their methods, am I really seeing originality? Or am I merely seeing earlier examples of the repurposing of words that they themselves read, digested, and spat back out?

I wonder if reading in another language would help break the thievery of established word combinations. English language patterns are significantly different from those of the Spanish language, for example. Maybe in reading untranslated literature I could learn to break free. I could try reading the great works of Miguel de Cervantes the way they were originally written, but I’m not entirely sold on the practicality of inching my way through Don Quixote with the help of Google Translate. And reading an English translation of the book would only be reading another writer’s interpretation of the words, patterned to fit the linguistic acuity of the American ear. So that’s out.

Anyway, do I really think attempting to master another language is the best method of improving my written skills if I haven’t even mastered my native lingo? Crawl first, then walk. Walk first, then run. Run first, then fly. But I’m afraid of heights and prone to accidents, and I don’t want to end up in traction. Then I’ll never get any work done. Plus, my premiums are going up in January.

The flaming candle ends melt further inward, and here I still sit, reminded of a great quote from Edna St. Vincent Millay that I just read for the first time:

“My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!”

Such beautiful, inspired words! But even Millay didn’t invent the “candle burning at both ends” idiom. She lifted it from somewhere else. Now I don’t feel so bad.

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