Monday, September 20, 2010

A Compilation of the Best Writing Advice I've Ever Gotten

1.  Write every day.  
      This one came from a number of sources.  The way that I've integrated it into my life doesn't require me to sit down every day and write a certain number of words, although I'm sure that works for some people.  For me this means: try to write every day, even if it's a to-do list.  On those days you absolutely can't bear it, pay attention: find the things that you will be able to use in your writing and carve them into your brain, and then try to write every day.  If you write once a week, in five years you still will have written something.  My favorite iteration of this concept is: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step."
2.  Start your story as close to the end as possible.
     This one I lifted out of Kurt Vonnegut's short story rules, and it forces me to get to the meat of what I'm trying to say.  It forces me to identify the end, and the real conflict as opposed to the backstory.  Sitting down to consider this rule has saved me oodles of drafts. 
3.  Get enough sleep.
     This is a weird one, straight from my totally weird and genius writing professor, Ron Carlson.  It's possibly the best advice on this list.  This advice got me to understand that while doing Hunter S. Thompson-esque author sh*t is an essential part of living, and living is at least half of writing, the actual act of writing requires you to take care of yourself.  You can't write when you're hungover; you can only reiterate television plots.  Writing is a healthy thing, the thing that sustains you and gives back to other people.  Living is what kills you.  Know the difference.
4. You have to like it better than being loved.
    This is the last line of a Marge Piercy poem which sustains me when the feeling of author vs. world is overwhelming.  This line is beyond the sustaining message of that poem, though.  What interests me is that I've found that it's not suggesting there's some sort of moral obligation that your writing should be more important to anything else.  It's saying that if you are a real writer, writing is more important than anything else, whether you like it or not.  Your writing will be there when no one else is, so you better like it.  You will write things that hurt the people you love; you will write things that hurt yourself.  You will write until mold grows all over your kitchen counter and you won't be able to help it, and so it better be what sustains you.  Which ties back, strangely, to number three.
5.  Don't answer the phone.
     This is the one I learned the hard way.  It has very little to do with the problem of opening the door and forgetting the dream you were writing down, like Coleridge with Kubla Khan (which is still a famous work of literature despite the interruption) and everything to do with not interrupting the mood that makes you want to write.  Interrupters will say things to make you doubt yourself; you'll be tempted to discuss your thoughts and you will talk it all out instead of writing it out; that guy you have a crush on will text you something cute--whatever happens, suddenly you will not feel like writing anymore.  Time is your only truly limited resource.  Spend it writing. 
6.  Don't make writing conditional.
    This is a general life rule, as well.  Whatever you want the most you will most likely get; if you inflict conditions on it, those conditions take on more importance than the desire.  For example: I will write x when I graduate college and have more time.  No you f*cking won't.  You'll graduate college, because that's what you have turned into a priority by arranging your other wants around it.  Write.  Do it now. 
7.  Forgive yourself for not writing (a.k.a. some writing>>not writing)
     This one is a gem of Elizabeth Gilbert's.  Sometimes you can't write.  Sometimes you'll go through six-month phases of reading, or running, instead.  This is also writing.  Don't worry about it.  Try to write every day, but forgive yourself if you don't.  This one also goes back to number 3.

1 comment:

  1. Kurt Vonnegut's is pretty interesting. I've never thought of that before.