I know, I know. There’s so much advice out there about writing: the handbooks, magazines, conferences, Web sites! You could easily spend all your time reading about writing instead of writing. Consider the magazines alone: Poets & Writers, The Writer, Writer’s Digest. If I subscribed to any or all of these, I’d be drowning in words about how to write words. So I don’t.
Instead, I take peeks at issues that pique my interest at my local library. And sometimes, if I really like something and feel it might be useful to us all, I spend a buck or so to copy some pages. I’m looking at one right now from The Writer (August 2013). It features a column called “Writers on Writing” and this issue spotlights the author Susan Choi. A novelist and creative-writing professor at Princeton, Susan won the Asian American Literary Award for her first book, The Foreign Student and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her second novel, American Women. Clearly she has some writing chops!
The interviewer asked Susan a key question and I just loved the direct, no-nonsense advice she gave, so I’m quoting it in full. The Question: “What is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?”
The Answer: “To write constantly, even without any clear idea of what I’m doing or whether or not I’ll keep what I’ve written, almost like a mechanical practice. It sounds very strange, but I spent a long time as a younger writer waiting for a certain amount of mental momentum. And I realized after a really long time, after two books, that that doesn’t come by itself. It comes through the act of writing, even if that entails generating a thousand words on any subject so that I’ve composed some chunk of prose — that’s what leads to mental clarity. I feel like people say this all the tie, but it’s almost like going to the gym. Writing is a repetitive exercise. It sounds so unromantic. But I think that’s the most important thing I’ve learned in the process of being a writer — that I actually have to sit down and just do it repeatedly, even if a lot of what I do will never end up seeing the light of day. In fact, that’s part of it: It seems almost like it’s necessary to write a lot of stuff that won’t ever see the light of day.”
Susan goes on to say that knowing all this has helped her as a writer by teaching her that “…you just write stuff. I used to be afraid to sit down to write if I didn’t know what I was doing. I don’t know what I was afraid of — maybe that I would corrupt my own mind with crappy writing. Now I just generate lots of crappy writing with the awareness that it will eventually get me somewhere, whereas if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t end up anywhere.”
I love the honesty, the wisdom, and the practicality of all this! It’s so freeing to know that even accomplished writers generate big dollops of drek on the way to saying something wonderful. So let’s be constant writers — and write on!