Where should you write? How often should you write? Is there such a thing as writer’s block? Should you discuss your writing with others, while it’s still in progress? If you’re looking for answers, the best people to ask would be writers themselves. Right? Not necessarily. Writers are a contradictory lot, like people really. Of course they are people too but sometimes we appear to be rather a strange breed.
In a collection spanning over 20 years, Jon Winokur’s little book ‘Writers on Writing’ contains as many varied opinions on the subject as patterns in snowflakes. Well, maybe not that many but still, a lot. The collection was published in 1988 and is now out of print, I believe, but you can still get a copy on Amazon. One reviewer claims ‘this book stopped me from stopping writing’ and I must say that certainly strikes a chord.
When you’re starting to write, you get bombarded with advice. If this is coming from people you perceive as being more knowledgeable than you, who have been writing for ever who are, yikes, already published, it can be most confusing. Especially if you respect them and yet their suggestions don’t seem to work for you. Whenever I was stuck, when felt that the idea of me writing fiction was simply laughable, I’d phone one or two trusted writer friends. And I’d turn to this book.
The great thing about these quotes is that they are contradictory. The lesson? There is no ‘right’ way to write, no ‘right’ time of day, no set hours – no set anything. It’s just a matter of finding out what suits you best and doing it. Of course, at first, you don’t know what that is – so it’s a question of trial and error. I’m not suggesting that you don’t take advice. Of course it’s good to learn from others who have been there before you. Just remember that it’s not set in stone. Pick and choose. Take the bits that fit you and ignore the rest.
Isaac Asimov would write for 18 hours a day. Edward Albee got a splitting headache after only three or four. Samuel Johnson said one should write at any time of day. Henry Millar started after breakfast. Jack Kerouac preferred midnight to dawn (that figures). As to the process, Joyce Cary never wrote to an arranged plot, Dorothy Parker thought it all out first and then wrote sentence by sentence, revising she went. Hemingway also revised over and over again whereas Katherine Anne Porter wrote her stories in one sitting.
There is some consensus – virtually everyone agrees that you shouldn’t discuss a work in progress. Most writers revise and redraft, though some far more than others. On everything else – including motive, readers and reading. Ego, talent, work habits, technique – there’s a wide difference of opinion. Here’s just a few of them. They are chosen at random, except the first one and the last – two statements that I believe in wholeheartedly. And find immensely comforting.
“A writer is someone who writes, that’s all. You can’t stop it; you can’t make yourself do anything else but that.” Gore Vidal
“The first thing you have to consider when writing a novel is your story, then your story – and then your story.” Ford Maddox Ford
“Writing is pretty crummy on the nerves.” Paul Theroux
“If you can’t annoy somebody, there’s little point in writing.” Kingsley Amis
“I write books to find out about things.” Rebecca West
“Every writer I know has trouble writing.” Joseph Heller
“I don’t get writing blocks except from the stationers, but I do feel so sickened by what I write that I don’t want to go on.” Anthony Burgess
“If my books had been any worse I would not have been invited to Hollywood, if they had been any better I would not have come.” Raymond Chandler
“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” E.M.Forster
“Money to a writer is time to write.” Frank Herbert