Friday, July 29, 2005

Reading about Writing 1

Over the last couple of months, I read several books about writing. I realize now that this was a new mode of procrastination. Reading about writing was a fine way to feel as if I was completely focussed on writing even when I was avoiding writing. Nevertheless, along the way, I came across some great books. In a series of intermittent posts, I’m going to do a bit of a round-up of some worthy recent titles on writing and the literary life.


John Dufresne, The Lie That Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction (W.W. Norton & Company, 2003).

I’m going to start with Dufresne’s book although it's the one that I can't seem to finish. You might think that this would count against the book; in fact, it serves as an endorsement. You see, the reason I’m making my way through it so slowly is that I can barely read a paragraph of it before putting the book down and taking up a pen. It’s not the exercises that conclude each chapter that have me scribbling away. (Though they do seem like excellent triggers of ideas and when I’m in need of inspiration I’ll go back to them.) It’s the way Dufresne so expertly sees through my subterfuges and skewers my excuses that sends me back to my desk again and again.

Here are a couple of excerpts, both from the chapter "Writing Around the Block."

On finishing what you start: “There is one perilous and seductive response to feeling mired that you want to avoid. You’re stuck, you think, and you suddenly get an idea for a better story, and this inspiration gives you permission to abandon the present one. You drop the old story onto the pile in the drawer, and you begin writing again with gusto. But soon you hit the wall and stumble, and then you’re rescued by a scintillating idea for yet another story. Resist the temptation to move on. Remember that ideas for stories are not stories. Stories are the shaping of experience, and they have beginnings, middles, and ends. So take notes about your brilliant new idea, but don’t go to it yet” (23).

On putting the time in: “You already know that everything in your life is calling you away from the writing desk. And always will. Get used to it. No one except you thinks that your writing is important. And remember that watching TV is not writer’s block. Going to a party is not writer’s block. You can kill time or use time. We’re all writing against the clock” (24).

A bit of tough love, but it’s working for me.

1 comment:

marly said...

I only teach one week out of the year, so I don't need many of these books. But Dufresne worked very well with my public school teachers.

Linked to a pre-seminar blog, the book helped a lot of them get started. Perhaps part of this was due to the blog. But it's the first time I've had students doing exercises from a book before the class began.