A couple of months ago, I diagnosed myself as The Occasional Writer — then proceeded to relapse back into those occasional habits. But I still believe I’m on the backside of those struggles.
My buddy Dorothea said in Becoming a Writer that once I’ve “begun to see what it is to be a writer, after you learn how the artist functions and also learn to act the same way, after you have arranged your affairs and your relations so that they help you instead of hinder you on your way toward the goal you have chosen, those books on your shelves on the technique of fiction, or those others which set up models of prose style and story structure for emulation, will look quite different to you, and be infinitely more helpful.”
Indeed, Dorthea’s book has become very helpful to me, and I believe that fact is because her book does not mean to teach the technique of fiction.
This book is not even a companion to works such as those; it is a preliminary to them. If it is successful, it will teach the beginner not how to write, but how to be a writer; and that is quite another thing.
According to Brande, writers have to foster split personalities — not to say that we need to start walking around talking to ourselves and answering our own questions — but we need to develop the artist’s side as well as the critic.
Brande describes the artist’s side as “‘the innocence of eye’ that means so much to the painter.” And I love the rest of her description:
The author of genius does keep till his last breath… the ability to respond freshly and quickly to new scenes, and to old scenes as though they were new; to see traits and characteristics as though each were new-minted from the hand of God instead of sorting them quickly into dusty categories and pigeon-holing them without wonder or surprise; to feel situations so immediately and keenly that the word “trite” has hardly any meaning for him; and always to see “the correspondences between things” of which Aristotle spoke 2,000 years ago. This freshness of response is vital to the author’s talent.
Who’s with me on this one? Who’s been hit upside the head with a memory long forgotten and been inspired to write it down and relive it as a story? There’s those wonderful instances where you wake up from a dream with a fabulous story idea that you have to outline. Right. Then. Or, standing in the shower, you realize something that would make your current story click.
I cherish these moments as a writer; they help me realize, “Oh yeah, I guess I am supposed to do this after all.”
But Brande describes the other side the writer has to cultivate — the personality to keep the artist’s feet on the ground:
It is the side of the artisan, the workman and the critic rather than the artist. It must work continually with and through the emotional and childlike side, or we have no work at all. The writer’s first task is to get these two elements of his nature into balance, to combine their aspect into one integrated character.
And then one last awesome description:
There is always the workaday man who walks, and the genius who flies.
That genius helped me hammer out just under 2,500 words of a short story first draft a little over a month ago. It also helped that I had a friend reading excerpts I spit out over four days and who kept saying, “More!” and “Finish it already!” I know that a lot of writing advice says to keep the first draft to myself and send the second draft out, but I wasn’t it sending it to her for deep critiquing. There was a general disclaimer that I was just putting it out there and planned on rearranging lots of stuff in the next draft.
After I finished the first draft, there were some celebratory high-fives and chest bumps in the mirror, but now the less glamorous part of the writing life — revising. Luckily, I found an excellent series on deep revising from Sarah Selecky, and I’ve done part one of those exercises.
The second part, however, is more intensive, and while part of me looks forward to sitting down and doing it, those perfectionist tendencies start creeping in — the ones when I start saying, “I really want to have the whole day to do this.”
But I rarely get “a whole day to do this,” and I’ve been putting off the revisions long enough that I’m recognizing my pattern, (Thanks, therapy!) and I know I need to break the task down to do one or two pages at a time.
Does this mean I’ll never again go weeks without writing? Pffft, noooo… I’m not that naive. There will be setbacks, but having the ability to recognize when I’m stalling and finding new ways to develop my writer personalities, I’ll be able to tap into my inspiration’s milkshake and drink it up.