Friday, November 12, 2010

Advice to Writers

I've been giving advice to writers for more years than I care to recall. The problem is I don't always follow my own suggestions.

For example, I recently told a busy friend that the best way to write was to set aside a fixed time once or twice a week. I was thinking of the habit of many writers who have a studio period every day. Dickens wrote faithfully from 9-1 each day, then took a long, long walk. Stephen King writes every morning of the week, he says.

But beginners are different. To have a studio period, when the house is quiet and there are no interruptions, can easily cause the apprehensive writer to freeze: he or she feels on the spot, pressued to produce. Do I give myself a free morning with nothing to do but write? Not usually. Interruptions are important as times to stretch and breathe.

My own work comes in drips and drabs throughout the day. The best ideas come while reading or watching TV. Paper and pen are usually handy. I might write a few notes or draft while waiting for a meal to be ready or after dinner before settling down to a movie. The busier the day seems, the more I can get done.

So it was with my schoolwork. If I had an entire semester to write a paper, I would procrastinate and end up squeezing the work in two-three days. The deadline loomed and the work turned out well.

So I must remind myself to be realistic and not give advice that I don't follow myself. As a beginning teacher, I preached, "Make and follow an outline." Later I learned that this can be too rigid for most people (and I never did it myself!) After all, writing is very much an individual thing. We learn to do it by writing, even if it's only an e-mail or quick journal entry at bedtime. It doesn't matter when or how much we produce.

Nothing is wasted, it seems to me, in composing; the little notes scattered around the house are part of a composing process that is not neat and simple. Some of these notes and drafts turn into publishable pieces; most do not.

The main thing is to enjoy the process, as another creative friend once advised, and not pressure yourself into that dreaded thing called writer's block, which is really easy to overcome.

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