Writing is a difficult trade which must be learned slowly by reading great authors; by trying at the outset to imitate them; by daring then to be original and by destroying one’s first productions.André Maurois
A writer is driven to satisfaction by three key factors. The first is an inspiration to think of a way to put his or her thoughts, the ideas, into words. Another factor is the focus to sit down staring at the blinking cursor without getting lured by the myriads of easily accessible distractions. And the final one is the craft that the writer brings to the table, one that he or she horns and perfects over the year.
This issue features a few essays from the masters who have, over the years, learned to command the art by confronting each of these factors. Let’s get straight to the recommendations.
Where do you get your ideas?
Neil Gaiman answers the question that each published author gets asked a lot – “where do you get the idea from”. And apparently “out of my head” is not an acceptable answer for most.
The ideas aren’t the hard bit. They’re a small component of the whole. Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you’re trying to build: making it interesting, making it new.
But still, it’s the question people want to know. In my case, they also want to know if I get them from my dreams. And I don’t give straight answers. Until recently.
Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators
Everybody is a procrastinator or most have been some time in their life. Megan Mcardle argues writers are a special kind; for them, being a procrastinator is “a peculiarly common occupational hazard”. Megan goes on to lay out why she is convinced that the writers are the worst. I always believed that the fear of doing something badly, not perfectly, is a prime driver for procrastination. But if the researchers are to be believed, the fear of doing nothing trumps the ills that perfectionism induces.
I once asked a talented and fairly famous colleague how he managed to regularly produce such highly regarded 8,000 word features. “Well,” he said, “first, I put it off for two or three weeks. Then I sit down to write. That’s when I get up and go clean the garage. After that, I go upstairs, and then I come back downstairs and complain to my wife for a couple of hours. Finally, but only after a couple more days have passed and I’m really freaking out about missing my deadline, I ultimately sit down and write.
Over the years, I developed a theory about why writers are such procrastinators: We were too good in English class. This sounds crazy, but hear me out.
Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully
In this short essay, Stephen King delivers advice for any writer who wants to be successful at writing good fiction. King does that in his signature style – clear and direct.
I know it sounds like an ad for some sleazy writers’ school, but I really am going to tell you everything you need to pursue a successful and financially rewarding career writing fiction, and I really am going to do it in ten minutes, which is exactly how long it took me to learn. It will actually take you twenty minutes or so to read this essay, however, because I have to tell you a story, and then I have to write a second introduction. But these, I argue, should not count in the ten minutes.
“Then there was the romance between the carton of smoothie and me.” Neil begins his flash fiction “Ferris Wheel” with this amusing lead. He goes on to narrate his unique romance with the “box of the carton”. He regularly writes flash fiction with each having a unique premise and wonderful narration. Another of flash fiction Two Earthlings tells a story of the visit of two aliens and their encounter with the dwellers of our planet - one that makes them wonder if the earthlings were “sentient or hostile or what”. Give all of Neil’s published work a read.
Forest - Stay focused, be present
“Forest is an app helping you stay away from your smartphone and stay focused on your work.” It is a unique take on the timer app where you plant a tree as you lock your phone down. If you want to quit the app, your tree will die. The belief is that the guilt acts as a deterrent to not access the phone until your focused session is done. The team behind the app also “partners with a real-tree-planting organization, Trees for the Future, to plant real trees on Earth”. A free app that, for sure, is worth a try.
One Final Inspiration
This post was delivered first as part of my weekly newsletter Slanting Nib & A Keyboard. Do read the archives and subscribe here.