Which one of these two excerpts do you like better?
1. “Being a doctor is a noble profession, a beacon of light for the ill. I have felt the power of that light for over 50 years, in dark gloomy nights of weather full of torrential rain and snow—and in the eerie silence before the sun rises. Many tough times I’ve had, but so gratifying! The memories will continue to fill me with fondness and awe—and will fuel the pages of my writing about this life commitment…”
2. “It is twelve years since I walked away from my beloved workbench in the operating room. It was not done with a cheery wave of the hand. For a long time, there was a sense of dislocation as if I was standing on the bank of a stream, and it was the bank that was flowing while the stream stood still. Surgery was my native land. The writer who cuts himself off from his native land does so at great risk. The subject of so much of my writing had been my work as a doctor. Would I be punished for sending myself into exile? Have nothing left to say? I needn’t have worried. There is always the sharp and aching tooth of memory.”
–The Doctor Stories, as presented in Writing True by Perl and Schwartz, pg 65
Before I tell you my opinion, please post in the comments and let me know which excerpt you preferred and why.
Go on! I’m curious what you think. The comments section is right there below this post…
Okay, moving on. My writing class went over these two excerpts, and I found myself to be in the great minority—I was the only writer in the class to prefer the first excerpt. In Writing True, Perl and Schwartz even went on to describe the multiple ways that the second excerpt is superior to the first. I disagree. Here’s why.
I take joy in hearing a story of joy. Happiness and satisfaction are very rare things in the grown-up world. It’s easier to write of sadness, questioning and dissatisfaction, because there’s so much more of it around. My classmates (and Perl and Schwartz) heard self-congratulation, over-confidence and even boasting in the first excerpt; I heard simple happiness at a job well done, triumph. I was happy for the first author. If I felt joy in an accomplishment of my own, I would have shared my story the same way.
The second author is pained, melancholy at having left their life’s love. This is a fine piece, but what I hear in it is just another person defeated by the world.
Part of me is genuinely frustrated that so many people prefer the second author, because of what that sentiment conveys to me. This is only my opinion (and minority opinion at that), but when I see people put off by the first author, I see them put off by the happiness and success of another person.
I also take personal interest in this because I’ve had many joyful experiences of my own, and I’ve conveyed them in a similar style of writing. I’ve gotten comments that told me it seemed like I was trying to show off—when all I wanted to do was share the joy.
Perl and Schwartz and my class like to hear questioning and uncertainty in an author’s voice, not confidence. I admire this type of confidence. Am I just odd this way?