Monday, July 18, 2011

Inch by Inch

In this blog entry I’m going to reference a writing acquaintance of mine here in Chicago, Molly Backes who works at Story Studio , which if you haven’t checked out any of their classes, then click here.

Molly recently wrote at her blog about writing: How to be a Writer. This blog was picked up by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic and reposted everywhere.

Here is a snip:
A few weeks ago, a woman asked me for advice about her teenage daughter. “She wants to be a writer,” the mother said. “What should we be doing?”

To be honest, I was kind of stumped. (In part, I think it was the way she asked it – “What should WE be doing?” I didn’t really know what to do with that “we.”) (Also, it was quite early in the day, and I hadn’t yet had sufficient coffee to be giving anyone advice.) I suggested a few upcoming creative writing classes, but the mother wasn’t satisfied. There must be more – what else could they do?

“Well,” I said, “you know. Writers read a lot… and write a lot.”

She looked at me blankly.

“You really do have to write a lot,” I said. “I mean, that’s mostly it. You write a lot.”

The mother shook her head. “What else? Are there books she can read? Events she can attend? Writing camps?”

Funny, but I was reminded of her blog this Sunday sitting in church. The woman, a close friend, was giving the sermon where she talked about faith being a series of small acts—rather than one BIG one. We’re conditioned to look for short cuts, the easy way. Yet sometimes the fastest way over the mountain is to climb it, one step in front of the other.

This must sound very old fashioned.

In today’s “there’s an app for that” culture something as uncool as work must sound really dorky.

True that. Work is hard work. Writing is typing in one word after another until sentences form, then paragraphs, then you erase them and try again. Ask Hemingway, he’d write one page to get one sentence. He wrote about the “one true thing.” Of course he also did things the hard way. He wrote with pencil and paper and toiled at the back of cafés wishing he had money to eat something off the menu besides coffee and a roll. He was such a lunkhead that he didn’t have a thumbdrive or back up disc when his wife left the suitcase containing all his manuscripts at the Gard De Nord train station. He had to start all over.

Yet us of the Google and Ipad, Android and Wiki are looking for a magic wand. We believe there’s got to be something more to writing than simply sitting in a chair and staying there until we’ve written something. It costs nothing. We’re not wasting paper or ink, we’re probably not starving or staring down the landlord; time is all we have to waste. All that time we’ve saved by networking, texting instead of phoning, downloading directions instead of driving around looking for street signs—all that saved time could be put to use writing our memoirs or writing a story. Yet we put it off or spend that time looking for just the right thing that will allow us to write.

Take it from me, a believer: writing is comprised of a series of very small, insignificant acts—one of which is faith, an accumulation of words, good and bad, right and wrong, that one slowly sees into and picks out a thread, that in all likelihood will get revised 2 or 3 more times, until there is eventually a beginning, middle, and end. Until there is The Old Man and The Sea, The Grapes of Wrath, In Cold Blood, To Kill a Mockingbird—you get the picture. Inch by inch.

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