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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

Round Ireland With A Fridge

Tony Hawks

It seems to me that there are two ways to create passable travel writing.  The first is to do an ordinary thing, and write an extraordinary story about it.  The second is to do an extraordinary thing, and then do ordinary writing about it.  Of course, the ideal is to do an extraordinary thing and write an extraordinary story about it, but I think few writers manage to achieve that.  Nonetheless, the other two approaches create perfectly readable travel writing that can’t help but appeal to all of the people who just do ordinary things and don’t write about them at all.

Round Ireland With a Fridge falls into the category of ordinary writing about an extraordinary journey.  The premise is as simple as it is absurd: Tony Hawks accepts a bet that he can hitchhike the circumference of Ireland in a month’s time with a mini fridge.  It’s no spoiler to say that the trip goes swimmingly.  It’s exactly the sort of ridiculous journey that people can rally behind, and the Irish people are good about rallying behind the ridiculous, anyway.  Hawks’ trip is, as one would expect, a marvelous sequence of shenanigans and a testament to the kindness of strangers with a sense of adventure.

But this wasn’t what excited me most about the book.  What excited me most about the book was that fact that it wasn’t particularly well-written, but sold half a million copies.  As many of you know, I’ve been working on my own book during the last few months.  Some of it is well-written; most of it isn’t yet.  But reading Round Ireland was confidence-boosting.  I’m used to reading writers like Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino, Dante and Umberto Eco.  And reading such master wordsmiths always leaves me feeling pretty inadequate as a storyteller.  But Round Ireland is different.  The story is great, but the writing is only fine.  Not brilliant, but fine.  There were plenty of parts where I thought that I would have told it differently, or would have phrased something better.  And rather than that being annoying, it was exciting for me.  Half a million copies.  I could do this.  It wasn’t magic, just dedication, discipline, and a good agent.

I’ve got two of the three.  I still need to learn how to find the third, but that only after I’ve done a lot more work.  For those of you keeping score at home, the current count is 33,290 words.  It might be halfway done.  Then half of it will end up on the editing floor to get replaced with something better.  I have come to this profound conclusion: writing a book is hard.  No wonder not everybody does it.  In the process, I was also given this equally profound piece of advice: the difference between writers and non-writers is that writers write.  Period.

So I’m trying to take that to heart, and keep at it.  The problem is always that it’s also true that musicians make music, period, and these days I’m much more that than I am a writer, so it always wins over other things.  The good news is that I think the only difference for me between being a writer and a musician is where I invest my time.  Either way, it’s time vastly well-spent.

2 comments to Round Ireland With A Fridge

  • markus

    looking fwd to whatever you put out there, man. in terms of other mediocre-ly written but interesting stories, have you tried “the sex lives of cannibals”? great fun. just sayin’. -m

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