There are times in when my writing garden becomes a fallow field and when this happens, I write about writing--a sacrifice to the literary gods--that maybe, just maybe they will set me on my true path again. I'm still waiting. So, in the interim, I will repost a writing essay from last year.
In the introduction to Stephen King's Night Shift, John D. MacDonald wrote probably the best little essay on writing I've ever read.
"The only way you learn how to write is by writing...Stephen King always wanted to write and so he writes." "Because that's the way it is done. Because there is not other way to do it. Not one other way."
"Compulsive diligence is almost enough. But not quite. You have to have a taste for words. Gluttony. You have to want to roll in them. You have to read millions of them by other people. You read everything with grinding envy or weary contempt."
"...you have to know yourself so well that you begin to know other people. A piece of us is in every person we can ever meet."
"Okay, then. Stupendous diligence plus word-love, plus empathy and out of that can come, painfully, some objectivity."
"It comes so painfully and so slowly"
"You send books out into the world and it's very hard to shuck them out of the spirit. They are tangled children, trying to make their way inspite of the handicaps you impose on them. I would give a pretty to get them all home and take one more swing at everyone of them. Page by page. Digging and cleaning, brushing and furbishing. Tidying up."
"Diligence, word-lust, empathy equal growing objectivity and then what? Story. Story. Dammit, story!"
"Story is something happening to someone you have been led to care about. It can happen in any demension--physical, mental, spiritual--and in combination of all those dimensions."
Night Shift, Doubleday & Company 1976
When I first read this, I found myself reading it over and over--especially the part about "Digging and cleaning, brushing and furbishing. Tidying up. "
I've never been a very "objective writer" first because I was too young and stupid and then because I was so manic I thought every word I wrote was gold from the gods.
Writing comes easy. I don't struggle. I never have to ask myself "Oh what am I going to write next?" It flows like a river. Or it comes to me completely all in one frame like a picture.
Because it is so very easy for me. I take it for granted. I pull the shiny stones out of the ore of my mind and dust them off and hold them to the sun and say " Look what I did."
What did I do, really? Nothing. But what if I took these stones and with the time and precision of a gem-cutter made them perfect? King is a gem-cutter. He writes, rewrites, revises and shines. That's what all great writers do.
And now I'm discovering so many gem-cutters on Open Salon. Their writing makes mine look like fool's gold. I'm finally realizing I'm not as good as I thought I was--now my real writing lessons can begin.