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On Writing


When I was a journalism major, William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well was required reading, along with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and the AP Style Guide. I love reading books on how to write. It’s a good diversion, rather than actually sitting down and doing the hard part, suffering through my plot problems and getting my work done. That’s the trouble with writing, you just have to sit down and do it.

In the past, I’ve tried to be what Zinsser calls a “citizen of writing.” (Check out his article Life and Work; I own and have read a lot of books on how to write. I really only recommend three: Bird by Bird; Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, On Writing; A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, and On Writing Well by Zinsser. All three are worthwhile. I have attended writer’s conferences, but I have found them to be suffocating, snobby and competitive. Conferences are a lot of talk about trends, marketing, self publishing, agents and editors, and as everyone gets more and more worked up, a quiet panic creeps over me, the kind you get when you have the worst batting average on the team and it looks like you will be taking the last-chance-to-win-the-game at bat. Strike out:  inevitable.  I once took a class called, Write That Novel! and felt completely ridiculous about it while I did not, in fact, write that novel. I’ve joined writers groups with no good result except being bogged down by other people’s ideas about what I should write, and how to revise what I thought was actually just fine.  Zinsser says “I do not show my writing to other writers; their agenda is not my agenda.” That succinctly sums up my writer’s group experiences. So much of it felt like talking about the writing we weren’t doing rather than writing. Kind of a writer’s group therapy. The big daddy of getting his writing done, Stephen King, says “In truth, I’ve found that any day’s routine interruptions and distractions don’t much hurt a work in progress and may actually help it in some ways. It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl, not the pearl-making seminars with other oysters.” I love that. Zinsser describes himself as a “lone craftsman,” and maybe I’m that. For Anne Lamott, “becoming a writer is about becoming conscious.” Maybe that kind of becoming conscious has to be done alone.

What I love about writing is that it is the craft of making something out of nothing. But we put so much meaning and pressure on this craft. It’s funny. If you want to be a runner you put your shoes on, step out your front door, and run. Nobody tells you that you aren’t a runner yet because you aren’t famous, you don’t make money at it, you aren’t fast enough, you haven’t run enough miles or registered for enough races, or your form is not unique enough. You are a runner because you run.  I think the same should apply to writing.  Blogging is fun for me because I have the constant, nagging need for an idea, a kernel, a paragraph, a post.  And that is actually a comfortable need.

If you want motivation for writing, check this out, advice written by freelancer John Scalzi.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 08/05/2010 2:41 pm

    Oh, gee, Tammy–you just keep inspiring me. I’ll be sharing this post with a writing/yoga buddy. I especially like King’s and Lamott’s comments that you cited. I, too, love Bird by Bird.

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