Writers on Writing III
As NaNoWriMo really gets underway, count on our continuing Writers on Writing series to keep you motivated. If you’re falling behind schedule, take advice from the greats and head back to work, you slacker!
(Correspondents: send us your gems!)
MORRIS L. WEST
In a longish life as a professional writer, I have heard a thousand masterpieces talked out over bars, restaurant tables and love seats. I have never seen one of them in print. Books must be written, not talked.
GEORGE V. HIGGINS
Never tell your reader what your story is about. Reading is a participatory sport. People do it because they are intelligent and enjoy figuring things out for themselves.
A good style comes primarily from lack of pretentiousness, and what is pretentious changes from year to year from day to day from minute to minute. We must be ever more careful. A man does not get old because he nears death; a man gets old because he can no longer see the false from the good.
If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you. Maybe it’s not quite that easy, but if you want to learn something, go to the source. Basho, the great seventeenth-century Haiku master said, “If you want to know about a tree, go to the tree.” If you want to know poetry, read it, listen to it. Let those patterns and forms be imprinted in you. Don’t step away from poetry to analyze a poem with your logical mind. Enter poetry with your whole body. Dogen, a great Zen master, said, “If you walk in the mist, you get wet.” So just listen, read, and write. Little by little, you will come closer to what you need to say and express it through your voice.
If you are going to learn from other writers don’t only read the great ones, because if you do that you’ll get so filled with despair and the fear that you’ll never be able to do anywhere near as well as they did that you’ll stop writing. I recommend that you read a lot of bad stuff, too. It’s very encouraging. “Hey, I can do so much better than this.” Read the greatest stuff but read the stuff that isn’t so great, too. Great stuff is very discouraging.
DONALD M. MURRAY
Don’t market yourself. Editors and readers don’t know what they want until they see it. Scratch what itches. Write what you need to write, feed the hunger for meaning in your life. Play at the serious questions of life and death.