Writing is a process. Not only the actual production of it, the sitting at the computer or legal pad and clawing down into unknown depths, but the living of it. The writer, like all writers, starts at the beginning. Here, there is only a small voice and little knowledge of the craft, save what she intuits from the books she reads, the classes she takes, her own work, which in the early days is terrible, just awful and stays that way for years, squeezing her heart of joy and her wringing her ego of self-esteem, until she believes she has failed, is a failure, must give up, and throw it all away, until … one day.
Last night in workshop, we had a nice discussion about fight scenes. They’re difficult to write well because the instinct is to narrate every step in the action in real time, neglecting all else. I offer a few tips.
What was any art but an effort to make a sheath, a mold in which to imprison for a moment the shining, elusive element which is life itself — life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose?
— Willa Cather
I love to read. It’s why I love to write. At the moment, I have piles of lit journals on my nightstand, collections of short stories and a couple of novels.
But I’ve discovered in the last few years that when focussing on my own writing, reading becomes a liability. Too much reading is bad for my art. I have the voice of the author in my head too often drowning out my own voice. Even after putting down the book, I have a difficult time getting that voice out of my head.
That’s one. A second reason to reduce my reading intake has to do with distraction.
I haven’t written a blog post in nearly a year. The reason? I have been writing.
Last September, I started a writing workshop via MeetUp in order to connect with local writers. Previous to that, I had been attending workshops through Grub Street and although I admire their programs, the cost is high. As a result of the workshop I started, I’ve met a bunch of extremely talented writers, but the best thing is that the workshops keep the fires burning. I’ve written more new stories in the last year — and also revised more manuscripts — than I ever have.
In this last year, I’ve grown exponentially as a writer. My prose is better but even more than that, I’ve come to a better understanding of who I am as a writer. I’ve been tapping into those deep, personal zones, the ones Robert Olen Butler calls “white-hot” places in From Where You Dream. The ones that scare you or feel difficult to broach. I’ve been working on staying there, unflinching. The idea speaks directly to what I wrote nearly a year ago in The Path Not Taken. That is, if you want to create honest-to-goodness art, you must slog through the mud. Actually, sit down in it. Dive.
So that’s where I’ve been. I’ll check in again.
Credit: Ruud Onos / Flickr, Creative Commons
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” — Stephen King
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is DO A LOT OF WORK. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece. It’s only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take a while. You just gotta fight your way through.” — Ira Glass
This is a difficult blog for me to write. I’ve been sort of avoiding it since I got home from the Writing by Writers conference in Tomales Bay, Calif. But a week has passed and it’s time to step up. The reason I’ve been avoiding this blog is that as soon as I articulate what I’m about to say, as soon as I tell you what I think, I have to follow through. That’s just how I am. You’ll never know if I do it or not, but I will. Continue reading
I’m still coming down from my six days in Marin County where I took a writing workshop with Ron Carlson at the Writing by Writers conference. I spent some time the last couple of days transcribing my notes and downloading images. I came across the one above this morning, a panoramic view of Bodega Bay. It’s a gorgeous spot and the only reason I saw it is that I went off course, along with the two other women I shared a rental car with.
Belief is the insistence that the truth is what one would like or wish it to be. Faith is the unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings; faith let’s go.
Credit: zoetnet, Flickr Creative Common