Sunday, September 4, 2011

Twenty-three authors give advice about writing: make soup, if that helps

Writing is not only an isolated task but as a creative art it is so individual an act as to be almost indescribable. One author's prompt is another's block; some need quiet and peace, others thrive on a houseful of distraction. However the writing gets done, that's how to do it.

And only then come the blare of trumpets, the shout-from-the-rooftop of publicity and publishing. It's no wonder that many authors, finally, say to enjoy what you write, like what you read -- because once your words become public there's no turning back. There's no eraser big enough to rub out a bad book.

Practical tips on writing (do you need the discipline of a writer's colony? A ruthless editor? In any case, a good activity like making soup is preferable to a catnap ...) are often well-meant but confusing. Again, it's the individual nature of the act that makes suggestions and recommendations so personal, and usually the more simple the technique, the better.

Steve Silberman, at NeuroTribes, offers a collection entitled Practical Tips on Writing a Book from 23 authors, from Sylvia Boorstein to David Crosby, from non-fiction writers to entrepreneurs. Deborah Blum offers the obvious: have a single sentence that describes the primary message of the book. Peter Conners suggests reading nothing that doesn't help your book: This is your time to be completely and justifiably obsessed. So go ahead — bask in the madness.

There's lots more at the NeuroTribes article -- getting writers to write about writing is not difficult -- and here is a complete, short, simple example from John Tarrant, author of Bring Me The Rhinoceros & Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life, and The Light Inside the Dark: Zen, Soul & the Spiritual Life:

Here’s a triplet of things that may apply only to me.

Ideas don’t come from anywhere identifiable, so I’ve come to trust that they will be given. This is along the lines of not whipping the donkey.

The process of lining the book up, giving it a bedside manner, asking “Is this what it is about? But what is it really about?” was a plunge. I had to explain the work to myself in more and more elementary language. I came to enjoy doing this. It helped when I realized that the discovery process was part of the writing and I didn’t have to be through it already.

There is always a period when I wrestle alone with my own process and at the same time I like collaboration. So I’ve learned what kind of editing works for me. A good editor is an impersonal force who says things like, “You could ditch the first half of your first chapter and start with what comes next,” and immediately I know if the edit is true or not. So I learned to be confident about sharing my work when it is not fully formed, learned that the process is robust and will look after itself.

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