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COLUMNS: Coffee on the Deck: The Editor's Ramblings on the Writing Life | Crafting Fabulous Fiction, by Victoria Grossack


Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer


Queries, Pitches and Proposals

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Coffee on the Deck
by Moira Allen

September 20, 2012:
What Do You Want on Your Tombstone?

Sandwiched as it is between an ad about "avoiding deathbed regrets" and an article on writing obituaries, it seemed that this issue's editorial just had to address a similar topic. What do you want on your tombstone? It might seem a somewhat morbid question, but it is a question that is particularly apt for writers. Because, basically, the reason many of us became writers in the first place was to be remembered. We want to create something that will live on after us.

Few things in this world are more enduring than words. Today's most influential religions are based upon words written down 2000 years ago, and more. To be sure, other things have survived that long; you can go to a museum and gaze upon a statue, or a pot, or a piece of jewelry, or even the mummified corpse of a king, and any number of other fascinating items that have endured for thousands of years. But the point is, you do have to go to a museum to do so. To read words that were written thousands of years ago, you can simply step into the nearest bookstore -- or, nowadays, visit a website or download them into your Kindle.

Chances are, you grew up with stories written at least a hundred years ago. I can remember, in second grade, sitting in a corner of the library discovering the tiny gem-like books of Beatrix Potter. I grew up on E. Nesbit, Mark Twain, C.S. Lewis, L. Frank Baum, and a hundred other writers who had turned to dust before I was even born. Those books, too, can still be found in an instant today. Some of the most memorable films ever made are based on books written more than a century ago.

I said in the opening paragraph that one goal many writers have is to be "remembered." But in many respects, that's not quite true. A politician, perhaps, wants to be remembered for his deeds. A writer wants to be remembered for his (or her) words -- or, more accurately, wants those words to be remembered. And it is the words themselves that stand the test of time. I can tell you "whodunnit" in any number of Agatha Christie novels, but very little about Dame Christie herself (although, I confess, I did enjoy her archaeology memoir, Come, Tell Me How You Live). I know much more about Oz than I do about L. Frank Baum; I could describe the landscape of Narnia far more easily than the life of C.S. Lewis. And this, I suspect, is exactly what those authors would have wished. Authors die; their creations live.

So what might a writer hope to hear in his or her obituary? Here are some thoughts that come to mind...

  • "Your words changed my life."
  • "I will never forget the character you created."
  • "Your words inspired me/encouraged me/helped me."
  • "I wish I could go and live in the world you created."
  • "I could read that book a hundred times."
  • "I have read that book a hundred times."
  • "Does this mean no more of your books?"

I can also think of some things that I probably don't want to hear in my obituary:

  • "Wow, what a cool Facebook page!"
  • "Is it too late to 'Friend' you?"
  • "Loved your Twitter feed!"

I don't know whether I'll ever craft a novel that endures for a hundred years or more. But as a writer, I do have an idea of what I'd like to see on my tombstone.

"No regrets."

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Copyright © 2012 Moira Allen

This article may be reprinted provided that the author's byline, bio, and copyright notice are retained in their entirety. For complete details on reprinting articles by Moira Allen, please click HERE.


Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts Mostly-Victorian.com, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.

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