The political and social issues just keep coming in hits I can’t seem to process, so I’ve decided to work on that annotated bibliography I promised here. Hopefully it will give other up-and-coming writers a helping hand, although it’s a steadying hand from the side, not pulling you up from a higher place. This first installment addresses the issue of getting your butt into the chair and making a start.
Stephen King’s “On Writing” (Pocket Books, New York 2001) is the first book that helped me realize it was ok to write the way I was already writing. High school taught me the proper way to write, with outlines and stuff, but I spent more than twenty years with little to no actual writing, just outlines and notes. When I turned forty-five some mental block must have released, and I started writing prose every free moment. After a year of writing I realized I should do something with it, and started looking for answers. Stephen King (by way of a used book store) stepped in. His own story of writing–ignoring people who said it was trash, learning to streamline it for readability, his lucky break that lead to a prolific career–all gave me hope. I was late to the game, but so what? Here is the place I learned to just write. Write until it’s done. Butt in chair. Just write. Let it suck. Just finish. If you do, you are way ahead of all the writers that want to find the time to write, but never do, and there are legions of them.
Terry Brooks’ “Sometimes the Magic Works” (Ballantine Books, New York 2003) was back to the proper way to write, with outlines and plans, but he added an important caveat to his advice that my teachers never admited. It’s ok to write without a plan, it is STILL writing, and writing is the important bit. The only bit. His gentle suggestion to organize, outline, and analyze after the story is finished, so you know where you flubbed and need to revise, was the best advice I ever received. His story of being the rebound guy after Tolkien, and often maligned for being a copy-cat (despite their ways of telling a story being completely different) was a nice added bonus. Another author’s story of his lucky break gave me hope to someday be so lucky, but I had to write something, first.
If fear of failure is your issue, and it’s keeping your butt out of the chair, give “Art & Fear” (Capra Press, Santa Barbara 1993) by David Bayles & Ted Orland a try. The advice is general, for artists of every type, but the issues we face are nearly identical. You have the right to express yourself, and it can be a real job–that you are paid to do–if you work to master your medium. Art is work. Inspiration leads to the drive for mastery, then mastery frees you to work inspired and unfettered. Put your butt in the chair and write. Become the wordsmith, dialogue master, builder of worlds, and teller of tales. Breathe out words like air, until you find your writing voice.
If inspiration is your problem, then “Writing From the Inner Self” (Harper Perennial, New York 1991) by Elaine Farris Hughes is helpful. This isn’t a problem of mine, being a victim of too many ideas, but while perusing through the book I discovered many ways of approaching a plot hole or dry patch. It’s worth having a copy on your self for stuck-in-mental-quicksand days. There are also thousands of places to get daily writing prompts and inspiration programs. I follow a couple on WordPress and Facebook.
If your blocks go deeper, and you have a scientific bent to your thinking, then “The Midnight Disease” (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston 2004) by Alice W. Flaherty digs into the biology, psychology and philosophy of writers and why they write. She writes as both a neurologist and a person suffering/blessed with hypergraphia. Some may think she is biased because of her condition, but I think it adds a depth of understanding to the issue of the sometimes fragile/sometimes titanium nature of the writer’s brain.
These are the most helpful of the books that I have read to date on the issue of “Butt in Chair”. I have “Bird by Bird” on my list, but haven’t managed it yet in the whirlwind of writing, revision, editing, blogging, social branding, and networking I’ve experienced in the last two years. I’m a big proponent of “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” so I’m keeping my eye out. (I now have a copy, but it’s not “there” yet.)
I hope you find this list useful. Next week, unless I get distracted (squirrel!), we will take a look at analyzing your manuscript, tentatively tilted “Monster in My Manuscript.” Until then…
The Low-Budget Writing Program: