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What I Know to be True About Writing

September 13, 2015 by Diane

Gone Fishing

I’m off for two weeks to hike in the woods and read at the lake and finish revising my short story. Which means no blogging. But since you visited my site, you deserve more than a brief itinerary of my vacation plans.

So here are my jots about what I know to be true about writing.

  • When the ideas won’t come, when they get stuck in the chutes of my synapses, I need to stop pushing. I need to return to freewriting, to dashing thoughts onto the page without the sense that God gave me–or with exactly the sense that God gave me–trusting that in all the gobbledygook, in “the colorful coleslaw of your consciousness,”  as Natalie Goldberg puts it in Writing Down the Bonesthere is one true thingOften, it’s in the scrambled writings where sense is made, where the truth shines through. But sometimes it takes letting go of logic before logic can be found.


  • In her creative nonfiction piece Corn Maze, originally published in Hunger Mountain, Pam Houston tells of her struggle to write something new and untested for the Wisconsin Book Festival, panicked that she won’t have anything ready for the reading in spite of writing continually on the plane and at the hotel, into the night and through the next day. Then she remembers what she tells her students when they’re stuck: Write down all of the things out in the world that have arrested your attention lately, that have glimmered at you in some resonant way. Set them next to each other. See what happens. I try this, and in so doing my subconscious creates leaps of logic that makes my conscious mind seem blind. The brain works in mysterious ways. Allow it.


  • We dream at night, making stories out of bits and pieces from the day: a blue bird, a pair of red high heels, Samba music. When we write, if we allow our subconscious to take control of our fingers on the keyboard or pen, we dream awake. Later, we plunder the dream for meaning; we shape it through structure.


  • I don’t like to walk on man-made paths. I like to cut across the lawn. As a writer, I want to take the unmarked path, the shortcut. I don’t want to be hemmed in. I don’t want to be paved over with structure. I accept this about myself, and do the hard work, later, paving my own way. As writers, we need to embrace our way, our method, our voice, our style, while keeping an eye on the way of other writers so as to borrow a brick here, a pebble there, making our own paths.


  • There’s no shortcut to doing the work.


  • By reading, we absorb the craft of writing. By writing, we learn the how of writing. By studying, we memorize the rules of writing. By reading our own writing, we discover the value of a good editor.



  1. Bun Karyudo says:

    Interesting tips. I like freewriting too. I hope you have a nice time hiking and come back, refreshed, full of great ideas and completely uneaten by a bear. I’ll think of you relaxing in a hammock by a lake while I’m sitting in the office. It will give me something to keep my mind occupied. 😀

  2. gulara says:

    Great post, the last paragraph is a really useful perspective on writing. Many thanks. Enjoy your trip.

  3. Ben says:

    Have a great time! Sounds like a blast!

    I need to do more free writing too. I don’t do enough of it. And it often unlocks writers’ block if I’m stuck on a project.

  4. Dan Alatorre says:

    Great ideas! Thanks for sharing them

  5. Karen Wheeler says:

    Enjoy enjoy your time away!!

  6. M.W. Thomas says:

    If it’s okay, I’d like to contribute a tip. That is playing around with the “what if” scenario. The cliche example is the doomsday story, although there is still room for invention in that genre. But you can be offbeat too. Example: when a contestant goes on a game show, such as Jeopardy! they always say something like “I am Jane Doe, and I am married to my wonderful husband Steve and we have two beautiful children Hansel and Gretel.” But what if instead she said, “My name is Jane Doe and my husband Steve is a womanizing, cheating alcoholic.” What kind of storm in her life would erupt from that? Fodder for the imagination!

  7. Dawne Webber says:

    There’s no shortcut to doing the work. AMEN. And yet I have to relearn that lesson over and over…

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