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 Bones, there is one true thing. Often, 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.