18 July, 2012

"Write Every Day"

Last week's post was on motivation, and this might seem like more of the same, but it isn't.  It's too important to find a place in our little cycle, so I must simply stick it here at the beginning:  this message pertains vitally to all three elements of writing.

On my first seminar on the MA, I sat with fellow students around three of the four large desks that made a square.  The walls were blank, everything smelled of carpet freshener, and the whiteboard was blank.  I eagerly awaited Scott Bradfield.  I'd already read his most famous novel, The History of Luminous Motion, and it blew me away, and this was the first time I'd see the man up close.

He burst into the room, seeming quite annoyed at having to take this hour away from his keyboard and his next novel. He turned his back on the class, grabbed the black pen under the whiteboard and scrawled: "Write a little every day, without hope and without despair." He turned back to us, sat and placed his wrists on the table. "I'm quoting Karen Blixen, here," he said. "If there's one piece of writing advice you need to take with you, this is it. If there's one sentence into which all writing advice boils down, this is it."

He stared at each of us in turn--that honest, emphatic stare he always gives. I was both glad and confused, because I'd been writing every day for years. So I'd been doing the right thing, but it hadn't gotten me anywhere yet.

I said, genuinely wondering regardless of how it might sound, "What if I want to write a lot every day?"

Scott turned to the whiteboard, one hand on his chin, stood up and began erasing the first half, "I've used this quote for years, but I think I'll change it. Okay." He turned back. "Write every day, without hope and without despair."

I mainly left that seminar full of beans because I'd changed the favoured paraphrase of a master of the craft. Me! I was special! Perhaps I'd make it after all! And I got back to writing every day. The reason I include this annecdote is to make clear:  write as much as you want.  It's actually a good skill to be able to write when you're fed up.  You'll probably have to from time to time if you become a professional.

To this day whenever I speak with Scott the conversation ends with him saying, "Keep on writing and reading and you'll get it."

The point? Writing is something you have to figure out for yourself. There's much good advice to help along the way (and far more terrible advice) but ultimately, you've got to figure this out. This is art, not math. There are no formulas here, only broad, human concepts.  I'll help point you in the right direction, and we'll return to this theme many times. This really is the most important writing advice you will ever hear or read.

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