Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Taking a Personal Day: Some Disconnected Thoughts on Writing

Still coming down from the business heavy posts yesterday? Don't worry, we'll take it lighter today.

The sad truth is that most people who read blogs want to write them, and the people who write them want to do it better. I know for a fact there are a number of aspiring writers who hang out here a bit, and would probably be interested in some discussion of the matter.

For the last year I've been redabbling with the idea of fiction writing, and like most dabblers, I have nothing to show for it, save for one short story, a failed project for National Novel Writing Month and two unformed drafts/outlines for other projects I haven't gotten around to fleshing out yet.

To balance such woeful inactivity, I read stacks of books on how to be a more productive writer [list below], which are really just 400 ways to say the same thing, which is:

1. The most important thing is sitting in the chair.
2. Write everyday, even if it's for twenty minutes.
3. You are a writer if you write.

Point three is the one I find most amusing, since anyone who tinkers in this sort of endeavour knows how impossible it can be wrestling with that title, with all its weight, horror and romance. Sure, we write, but we're not writers. Ian McEwan is a writer. Doris Lessing is a writer. We're amateurs. I've been paid to put words on a page off and on for four years, and I still wouldn't dare classify myself as such.

And that's why none of us can get on with it: we're too scared to just embrace what we want to be because we don't want to look like every other pretentious arse wandering around with thick rimmed glasses and a corduroy jacket. So we postpone the actual writing, batting around the ideas in our heads until we think they'll explode onto the page fully formed. And when they don't, we retreat again.

Unacceptable, friends. I have two quotes on a whiteboard in our study/office:
  • Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us get up and do the work.

  • Writing is like driving at night. You can only see a little ways ahead, but that's enough to carry you the whole journey.
So I'm going to quit griping that I can only write between 1.00 and 5.00 p.m. secluded in a corner at cafes with a window view and a lukewarm beverage at the upper right corner of the table. I'm going to stop editing as I go along, remembering just getting the story out is the important part, there's time to edit afterwards. And I will always remember that this is a years long process I'm dabbling with. May we all learn to embrace our failure.

Recommended Reading:
The Believer Book ofWriters Talking to Writers: You're already a romantic concerning the writerly life, so read these and back-and-forths with Jonathan Lethem/Paul Auster, Zadie Smith/Ian McEwan, Dave Eggers/Joan Didion and about 20 others. Definite perspective to be found there.

The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction vols. 1 and 2: Not so much how-tos as much as a series of themed soundbites from the multitude of authors Glimmer Train has interviewed over the years. Volume 1 discusses the mechanics of writing, while the second volume looks at inspiration and discipline.

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose: A wonderful book to retune your mind to pay closer attention to what you're reading, and how to learn the most from it. Spoiler alert: read lots of Chekhov.

Getting the Words Right by Theodore A. Rees Cheney: Of all the 'practical how-to' books I've flipped through at work, this one is the one I'll likely end up buying at some point. It examines 39 ways to improve your writing, from word selection, to how to trim and tone your drafts. A definite keeper when it comes time to read things over. Just remember to take a few weeks away from them before you do.

Hope those help, for those who're interested. For those who aren't, apologies and thank you for enduring.


Anonymous Rogers said...

Hey buddy,

I was thinking about your post on writing overnight, away from my computer, well after I read it ... yup - it had me thinking.

Frankly, your blog had me thinking that you don't believe yourself to be much of a writer, and that bugged me, mostly because that's so way off the mark.

You are a writer - you've been doing it for years, and you're very good at it. Your style and grace on the page had the power to rejuvenate the opinion section of The Lance, was strong enough to push our content into the multi-media-verse with the podcasts (which people only listened to to hear you) and then into a successful following with the blog readership.

Regardless of what promotions were behind those ventures, it was all possible because of your style and abilities. Be more proud of what you've done than those things that you've yet to do, man. You're almost humble to a flaw, but don't be ashamed. We all moonlight at something, hoping to make our dreams come true.

You'll be able to quit your day job one of these days. Keep up all the good work.

11:58 AM


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