Friday, July 4, 2008

Getting Words On The Page

I don't ever want to "teach writing." Why, you may ask? Because -- as I am fond of saying -- writing is a lot like cooking. It's the finished product that counts, not how you got there. And writers, like cooks, have their own methods, ones usually honed by much trial and error. What works for one writer, may not work at all for another. For example, I find that I can't force myself to write when there's nothing in my brain, despite the very logical assertion that one cannot fix a blank page.

For me, it's more "trash in the brain, trash on the screen." And I'm not talking about the "first draft" efforts when you have at least some idea of what you want to do. I'm talking about having nothing in the pantry and trying to whip up a banquet. In keeping with the cooking analogy, it's like stirring an empty pot with a big metal spoon. Nothing happens -- except perhaps a headache from the noise.

What often works for me is briefly doing SOMETHING ELSE. (Please note that I said "briefly." Let's not get crazy.)

Once, when I was completely stuck regarding an epilogue I needed to have finished and mailed days earlier, my friend Jo dragged me kicking and screaming to a lecture on Robert E. Lee. Aside from the writing block, I still had the exhausting day job, and I wasn't well physically. But I went -- because I like Jo -- she always makes me feel better about things -- and because I didn't know much of anything about the general -- and because I'm seriously cursed with the need to assimilate information "just in case." (Read: I might need it for a book.)

The lecture was SRO -- not good for somebody already puny. It was also fascinating -- very good for somebody whose creativity had stalled. I came home physically exhausted and emotionally elated -- because I suddenly knew exactly what to do to that pesky blank-page epilogue.

So. I have said that I don't want to teach writing -- but I don't mind sharing my "recipes" at all. From time to time I'm going to tell you how I "cook." Things I've found useful or helpful or a waste of time. I'm going to start with Cheryl's Ultimate Goal. I always go into a project knowing that I want it to be these three things:


Whether I accomplish that goal sometimes remains to be seen. In any event, rest assured that I'm always trying.

But I'll have to go into more detail later. Right now there's a thunderstorm coming and the household computers must be turned off. If you have any questions about what I've said here so far, feel free to click "comments" and ask.

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