Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Writing On Demand

One of the biggest myths about writing is that you need to wait for inspiration from your muse. Honestly, if that is your method, you will drink yourself to death before that muse shows up.

While it's true that inspiration can strike at any time and you need a butterfly net in your head to capture those sparkling but elusive special illuminations, for the most part writing is a craft and a discipline. Hemingway's aim was 500 good words a day. Jack London wrote a thousand words a day. Whatever your target, you're more likely to reach it by discipline than by hopes, whims and the winds of chance.

It was Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer that sank this lesson home for me. She pointed out that by setting an established time and place to write each day we can harness our unconscious, our intuitive powers, train it to join us as we approach the allotted time. The unconscious, says Brande, is shy, elusive, and unwieldy, but it is possible to learn to tap it at will, and even to direct it. The conscious mind, on the other hand, is meddlesome, opinionated, and arrogant, but it can be made subservient to the inborn talent through training. (These last two sentences were borrowed from a review at Amazon.com, but they capture the essence of my thought so very well.)

Written in the early 1930's Brande taught writing and was a keen observer of the creative process. Brande may not have been the origin of the notion of left brain/right brain thinking, but I first encountered it here, decades before it was popularized in the self-help rage of the nineties.

It's my opinion that if you want to master the craft of writing, here are three things you can do. First, get into the habit of writing every day. When I was young I used do what I called "limbo excercises." At a specific time each evening I would place a sheet of paper into my typewriter and fill it with words, single spaced, as fast as I was able. It was a great exercise for getting the joices flowing, especially since you were not aiming for publication or fame, but just learning how to produce good copy quickly. (Note: No one that I know of skips the editing step that must follow. Do not aim for perfect prose. Perfection happens when you tighten and revise afterwards)

Second, go to the library and read as many books on writing that you can possibly find. Buy the best ones for your personal library.

Third, read great writers and study how they do what they do. You'll never be a great writer if you can't tell the difference between Hemingway and Danielle Steele.

For what it's worth, Amazon.com has 93 used copies of Brande's book on sale starting at 35 cents. Might be a good place to start if you're a beginning writer or young writer seeking to move it up a notch.

Have a great, great day. And write on.

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