There comes a time in every writer’s life when she believes she has no ideas and a deadline approaches and panic hovers at the periphery. Perhaps said writer would prefer to be at the beach rather than inside writing; perhaps she has a job that is keeping her busy; perhaps she is lazy; perhaps her hands hurt from writing too much… The circumstances don’t really matter. What matters is the deadline, and so what does the writer do? Go to the beach? No. Work harder at her job? Not really. Take a nap? Maybe. Massage her hands? Always. Panic? Not yet.
Before panic can set in, she asks her friends – in this case, Facebook friends – for help.
So picture a summer weekend: the sun is shining, there are picnics and barbeques and festivals to attend, there are a million errands to run. “What’s the best writing advice you ever received, or the best you have given, or the best you have magically learned?” I asked. And my Facebook posse took a moment to offer answers that ranged from the funny to the philosophical, from the practical to the aspirational. Here are some of their replies:
- What you address/resolve in yourself will be addressed/resolved in your text.
- It’s okay to use “said.” Sometimes people just say things.
- You have to make the time to write. Schedule it in your calendar like any other appointment, and try to make it a routine. Like, every weekday you get up at 6 a.m. and write for 20 minutes before work. It doesn’t matter what you write, or even if it’s good – just write.
- “By writing, I learned early that you can’t get there drunk or smoking dope or hanging about waiting for your muse. Starting each day is like priming the pump, in my experience; it’s plain hard labor, hunting the right way to express that thought that had seemed so penetrating, even beautiful, before you had to reduce it into words.” (Andy Matthiessen, quoting his grandfather, Peter)
- Writer’s block is cured by engaging in things that give your life meaning.
- If you get inspiration while driving, pull the car over and write it down immediately or you might lose it. (Do not try to write while driving!)
- Writers are not just writers. A writer must be a thinker, a communicator, a detective, an architect, a critic, a moderator, a storyteller, an editor, and a million other things.
- Never start an essay with the line, “It was just another ordinary day.”
- “You have to strip yourself of all your disguises, some of which you didn’t know you had. You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal.” (Beth Alvarado, quoting James Baldwin)
- Don’t complicate stories that can be told simply.
- There are three sides to every story. Your story, their story, and the truth. All three will be different.
- Pay attention to the way words sound together just as much as you do for the meaning or metaphor you’re giving them.
- Tell the voice reading over your shoulder to shut up.
- “If you complain about how hard it is to be a writer more than, or even as much as, your brother complains about how hard it is to be a coal miner, you’re an asshole. And, you know, your brother almost never complains about being a coal miner.” (Sarah Einstein, quoting her father)
There’s no point in trying to improve on Sarah Einstein’s father’s advice, but I’ll still add a few of my own:
- Revision is potentially endless. Learn to kiss it goodbye.
- If you create a pattern, break the pattern.
- Research is discovery. Embrace it.
- It’s okay to be a sucker for a beautiful line…although your editors (and readers) may disagree.
- “Only connect.”
If you have any advice that has been of enduring value, please share here. Meantime, happy summer, and a giant THANK YOU to my friends who contributed their words of wisdom.[boxer set=”donna-steiner-bio”]