Friday, August 13, 2010
TGIF, dear readers!
I've never been a fan of books about writing. Reading books about writing always seemed like yet another way to get out of actually writing. Too many people seem to carry the latest self-indulgent tome of some famous author, cover out, as if to say, "Look, world! I'm a writer! See, I'm reading the latest release about writing by Elizabeth George, so I must be!"
But the truth is, only one thing can make you a writer. Not reading about it. Not talking about it. Not going to writer's conferences and workshops, or joining writer's associations and guilds. Not applying for writer's grants, even if you get them. No, the only thing that can make you a writer--and you'd be surprised how many wanna-be writers don't get this--is actually writing.
Some of you who know me well, or who have read every post in this blog, may be saying, "But what about 'On Writing'? That's a book about writing, and you love it. You even called it your bible!"
True. But to me, On Writing has one thing going for it that other writing how-tos do not. On Writing is by Stephen King, and I would buy just about anything by Stephen King, because I love that man's voice so much. To be able to read an entire book of King talking about writing and life in general? Wow. I never dared to dream of anything so wonderful until it actually existed. You see, my favorite part of a Stephen King novel has always been his letter at the end...the one that unfailingly begins, "Dear Constant Reader". Whenever I open a book of his, I know his letter is waiting for me at the end, like a fine dessert at the end of a delicious meal. I anticipate that letter throughout the 700, 800, or 1073 pages I have to read to get to it, but I would never flip to the end and read it first. That would ruin everything, like figuring out too early who the killer is in a really good murder mystery.
I can't recall learning anything especially new or profound about sentence structure, plot, character development, or scene setting in On Writing. Which is fine by me, because the fact that King was talking about writing was almost beside the point. His voice is so honest, so real, and so compelling, that I can cheerfully follow along as he talks about anything. Even baseball, and--my apologies to all my American readers--baseball bores the shit out of me.
Lately, I've been thinking of giving writing books another chance, much like other writerly pursuits I turned my back on--the writer's group, writer's conference, and writing contests among them. So I picked up a book I've heard other writers (both the famous and not-so-famous) extol again and again: Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.
I'm only on page sixty, but I'd already call Lamott's book a raving success. Why? Because the more of it I read, the more I desperately want to write. I tell myself that I'll read a chapter, but then put the book down in the middle of it to write. I'm not quite finished my work in progress, but for some reason, Bird by Bird has conjured up my next book, and I've had to jot everything down so I won't forget. Now that is a worthwhile writing book, I'd say.
My kickboxing coach calls the last class of the week a "Fun Friday", which has resulted in quite a bit of confusion among his students. You see, we go to a Fun Friday thinking it's going to be easy, but it ends up kicking our ass as much as any other muay thai class. Sometimes even those dreaded plyometrics are thrown into the mix. My coach just laughs when we whine, and although there's a lot of "Fun Friday, my ass!" mutterings in the change room later on, we still show up each week. Because, in its own way, it is kind of fun, because we think muay thai is fun. If we didn't, we wouldn't be there. Perhaps we'd be playing baseball.
So, in honor of my kickboxing instructor and in deference to Anne Lamott and others who have written worthwhile writing books, I'm instituting Fun Fridays on this blog. Each Friday, I will post a writing exercise inspired by Lamott's Bird by Bird or others like her. Maybe I'll even get to the point where I'll make up my own. The following week, I will tell you how it turned out for me. I might post a bit of the results, or even the entire piece, if it's not too long. The story might lie in how I felt when I was doing the exercise, or what else was going on in my life, or what realization came because of it. And I encourage you to do the same. You can post it here in the comment section, or on my Fan Page if that seems more comfortable. Even the non-writers may find this fun. We all took Creative Writing in school, right? This will be even better, because there are no grades.
I especially challenge two dear friends who used to write, years ago, but have long since stopped. If Andrea and Christine give this a shot, I promise to never again slam how-to write books.
Anne thinks that what we brought for lunch as kids tells a lot about us, our families, and how we felt compared to our peers. She writes "it looked like a bunch of kids eating lunch. It was really about opening our insides in front of everyone."
So, tell me about your lunch back in elementary school. What was in it? Who, if anyone, made it for you? How did you feel about it? How did the other kids react? Where did you eat your lunch? Who was with you? Did you wish you were somewhere else, with different people, or were you content?
Don't worry if you wander off-topic, because there's no such thing. That's part of the fun!
Have a great weekend, everyone!
Posted by J.H. Moncrieff at 1:34 PM