Writing lessons from a cheap tuxedo

Word count: 730 words

Reading time: About 2.75 minutes

Do you have good luck when you shop? When you write? While luck is marvellous, it’s not something you should count on any more than you’d expect to be able to  find a really cheap tuxedo. Read on to learn why….

My 17-year-old son is 6 ft 2 inches tall and 135 pounds, soaking wet, the day after Christmas. He comes by his physique honestly. Both his grandfathers were tall and skinny, one until he turned 30, the other for his entire life.

Normally, I don’t give much thought to my son’s height and weight (well, except when he sucks in his so-called “gut” and I can see his cavernous ribs.) But it became more of an issue recently. My son likes to sing, mostly contemporary music but he’s now joined a traditional choir and he needs a tuxedo for his first choral performance, Nov. 26.

Have you ever tried to find a cheap tuxedo for someone who’s a string bean? (With four concerts per year, rental makes no financial sense.) Initially, we tried to buy a secondhand tux but Craigslist held no joy. Then, oh hallelujah chorus, we thought we’d found a new one via EBay — a 36 tall — in New York City, for $99. Unfortunately, the store had made a mistake. What they really had was a 38 tall. Too large.

Coincidentally, however, my son and I were scheduled to go New York last week where I was speaking at a writing workshop. It occurred to me that we could go to the actual store and he could try on the suit. We weren’t optimistic, but figured it was worth a shot.

A long flight, a speech and a day later, it was finally time to go tuxedo shopping. We leaped into a cab and made off for the fringes of New York’s Chinatown, home of the wholesaler. The cab driver seemed reluctant to let go of us — the shop, which was in a marginal block was hidden behind a mountain of cardboard boxes — but a gentleman waved us in and even cleared a path.

Once inside the store I felt as though we were on a movie set. The walls were lined with racks of clothing and boxes were piled to the very top of the 16-foot ceiling. But the owner shrieked at us in recognition. “Oh, you’re the people from Canada,” she said. “I have the tux right here.” My son tried on the jacket and while it’s too large for him, it’s not laughably big. It’s conceivable that one day he’ll even grow into it.

We were elated — and not just because the $99 included a shirt, tie and cummerbund. The whole adventure was just so improbable. Who, apart from George Clooney would take a plane ride across the continent to buy a tux? And who would be lucky enough to get a perfectly reasonable new one for only $99?

I tell you this story not to boast, but to meditate on luck. The sort of luck that many writers seek. Don’t you just long for the elation that comes from sitting down at a keyboard and feeling your fingers fly over the keyboard as the words tumble out of your brain? Whenever that happens to me — and it occurs only rarely, even though I’ve been a professional writer for more than 30 years — I feel powerful and herculean. The feeling is eerily familiar to the feeling I had when finding that cheap tuxedo.

But would I ever COUNT on being able to write as if an angel were whispering the words in my left ear? No more than I’d count on being able to buy a skinny tuxedo for $99. When those moments happen, I treasure them. But I don’t expect them.

Don’t think you’re not a writer because you don’t have enough golden moments. Golden moments are rare and special and exotic. They are not the real deal. The real deal is writing every day, whether you feel like it or not. The real deal is struggling to find exactly the right word or phrase or metaphor (although I must remind you this struggle should come only in the editing phase of your writing, not the rough drafting stage.)

The real deal is accepting that some days, writing is not fun, not pleasurable, not even very interesting, but you’re going to do it any way because you have committed to it.

So, sure, enjoy it when you find a tuxedo that fits. But don’t ever build a career on that kind of luck.

Scroll to Top