Do you do this? Tape favorite quotes, poems and passages around your writing nook? Below are some of my notes to self and advice from the masters I've underlined in books and taped to the walls. Stuff I've learned on this writing journey but still need constant reminders of. How about you? Maybe there is something here you can use, something you, too, need reminding of.
Writers must read. (Don't assume everyone does. I'll never forget a young man in one of my creative writing classes who announced smugly, "I don't read. I only write.") Read voraciously in many genres. The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent reading.
In order to write, a man will turn over half a library to make one book.
-Dr. Samuel Johnson
Secondly write. Write insatiably. Write like you’re dying. Write, write, write.
You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you."
- Ray Bradbury
The topic doesn’t matter. POV doesn’t matter. Genre doesn’t matter. The quality of the writing is all that matters. The art of writing itself is all that matters.
Your first paragraph must be as good as your last. The critical moment which propels your story forward MUST happen in the first 30 pages. "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is one exception that quickly comes to mind. I kept reading only because so many people told me it was good. But it took 100 pages to grab me. Most of us won’t have 100 pages to fool around with.
The stories we tell must set off the vivid and continuous dream, famed author and writing teacher John Gardner so often talked about, wherein the reader instantly forgets that they’re reading printed words on a page.
Improve your vocabulary, not with grandiose tongue-twisters but with small forgotten words. Gardner recommends that you go through the dictionary and write down all the relatively short, relatively common words that you would not ordinarily think to use, and then make an effort to use them as if they’d come to you naturally. Avoid trite, clichéd, and sentimental phrases like the scabies, "anything that would distract an intelligent, senstive reader from the vivid and continuous dream."
The characters we knock around must be interesting. The stories we tell must first and foremost be stories.
The cat sat on the mat is not a story. The cat sat on the other cat’s mat is a story.
-John le Carre
I'd like to end with a wonderfully appropriate parable for the season that was passed on to me from my sister, the editor.
A grandmother is explaining life to her Granddaughter:
"There is a battle going on inside me. It is a fierce battle between 2 wolves. The first wolf is Evil: hatred, anger, greed, envy, ego, sorrow, regret. The second is Good: love, compassion, peace, joy, hope, empathy, serenity.
The same battle is going on inside you and everybody else."
The granddaughter asks, "Which wolf will win"?
The grandmother replies simply, "The one you feed".
I wish all my writerly friends an inspired writing life as laid out in Poets and Writers. While you're there, check out their concise list of contests, grants and awards and literary mags taking submissions. Many of these contests run through the end of January.
Happy New Year. May peace and storytelling reign in 2012. Feed the good wolf and go write some stories.