Sunday, March 12, 2017

Do the Verb to Be the Noun

I'm really good at talking about what we should be doing to grow as writers. I frequently return to my mentors -- Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, the Donalds (Murray and Graves), Peter Elbow even -- but there is a bit of a hitch in the transition from knowing and believing to doing. I struggle to put it into practice myself.

I suppose it's fear, largely.  If I merely open the tap and let words and ideas spill forth, then it is what it is.  But if I want to see myself as a writer, I think it needs to be more than that.  I'm writing everyday, which has proven to be more challenging than I expected.  In that aspect, I'm stretching my writing muscles.  It reminds me of when I started running a few years ago.  At first the distances I could cover were short and laborious.  But over time, a little practice each day, the distance wasn't so difficult to cover.  I built stamina and strength until suddenly I didn't.  I regressed almost.  Where 3 miles was manageable before, I began to peter out at 2.5.  And I guess that's what this writing thing feels like.  I've never been an athlete, so I don't benefit from the first-hand knowledge of what a coach provides in whole, but I think that's how I need to think about my mentors.  If I merely read their words, but don't apply them, it's the equivalent of a coach offering perspective and direction, but not heeding their advice, right?  Little growth can come from that.

I'm revisiting Stephen King's On Writing and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. Both have powerful, easy advice, and it's time I put it into practice.  Some of my favorites:

"If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write."

"I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing." -King

"You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons are the ones you teach yourself." -King

"If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work.  Write straight into the emotional center of things.  Write toward vulnerability.  Risk being unliked.  Tell the truth, as you understand it." -Lammot

"Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train.  You don't drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor's yard every time it piddles on the floor.  You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper." -Lammot

"I don't think you have time waste not writing because you are afraid you won't be good at it."

At the ICTE conference in the fall, Sara Kajder urged: "You have to do the verb to be the noun." If I aspire to see myself as a writer, I must do the messy work of writing -- without fear, without a need for perfectionism, without question.  It might not often be pretty, but it's a stepping stone to something that might be.

1 comment:

  1. It was so good to reread those quotes, but especially the one by Sara Kadjer. I'm facing a wall myself and I need to get more doing. All the best to you