This blog, beneath my name, says this space is about fiction, and you know, life. So far it has been little about fiction and pretty much all about other things in life. But I have been thinking about fiction and reading fiction and the thing is, it’s pretty much life. Fiction is eerily close to truth, and the best fiction is better than truth.
So far I’ve read three books about writing (recently, that is. Not counting my college days, because they feel so damn far away), and they all say similar things.
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
On Writing by Stephen King
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
They are all wonderful books in their own respects, and each author has his own style, but they all share a few commonalities that have stayed with me. The following is a simple list of things that Bradbury, King, and Lamott all seem to agree on.
1. You have to love writing to be a writer.
Duh. Writing itself, though, has to sustain you. Not the thought of getting published, not the thought of writing ten best sellers in a row or gracing the shortlist for the Nobel. The writing is the magic, and it will feed you if you feed it.
2. You have to listen and observe.
The world has all the stories we could ever tell. Watch, listen, and write down the things you see and hear.
3. The stories already exist; it’s up to you to find them.
Stephen King uses the analogy of a buried story. All the pieces are there, and it’s up to the writer to carefully uncover the pieces, to dust them off and find them there, whole and beautiful. Anne Lamott says that if you listen to your characters, really listen to them instead of projecting your own agenda onto them, they’ll tell you their stories, and they will be true.
4. Show up every day so the muse knows where you live.
This one has been especially hard for me. I’ve been using 750 words to clear my brain and dump everything onto a page. Then I do feel clearer and lighter for writing the real story instead of writing my own story.
Some writers have strict times of day to sit at their desks, and others have a freer, more flexible approach. Daily writing seems to be the magical ingredient to getting out a story, getting it down on paper (let’s be real: on your word processor), and giving it life.
5. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
You won’t always create something wonderful, fresh, and moving. And that’s totally OK.
Anne Lamott writes,
Your day’s work might turn out to have been a mess. So what? Vonnegut said, “When I write, I feel like an armless legless man with a crayon in his mouth.” So go ahead and make big scrawls and mistakes. Use up lots of paper. Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here—and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.
6. Come to the page excited.
Stephen King writes,
You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, with excitement, hopefulness, or even despair—the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.
Ray Bradbury excites himself, too:
Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a land mine. The land mine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces back together. Now, it’s your turn. Jump!
So now I’m off, friends, to blow myself up and put myself back together. Call me Humpty Dumpty.