April 30, 2018 § 46 Comments
by Jan Priddy
Karen Karbo spends twenty minutes each morning ranting on yellow pads of paper before she begins her real writing for the day. William Stafford famously began his days by writing an aphorism and then the draft of a poem. In his book of writing advice, The Triggering Town, Richard Hugo warns against writing with a pen, erasing a mark, and that we should use lined paper with green lines. He also writes that he hopes he doesn’t teach others to write, “but how to teach yourself to write.”
My first creative writing teacher, Sandra Dorr, described being stranded in Europe and completely blocked from writing by her interior nay-saying voice. We all hear that voice. It tells us that our writing is hopeless, clunky, too specific or too general, without purpose or meaning even to ourselves. Personify the critical voice the way Jamaica Kincaid does briefly in “Girl” and allow it to have its say, and that nay-sayer will shut every one of us down.
We should not let that happen.
Freewriting, the deliberate writing of whatever pops into our heads, is one way to shut down the nay-saying voice. There is no editor allowed in freewriting. Words spill onto the page without judgement. Accident and mess are welcomed onto our pages. Random, weird, confused, repetitive—sometimes it is the only way to sneak past our critical sentinel who consistently, insistently demands that we write better than we are able to write.
We speak about 125 words per minute, but we think words at least four times this pace. Our observations of visual images and sound and touch and taste are vastly more complex. All of this happens much faster than we can write about it.
When I write as fast as I can, even with a word processor, my thinking obviously outstrips my word recording. In order to stay on my topic on the page or screen, I notice inconsequential details. I see and hear and think about the words I type in order to prevent my mind from wandering off the page. I once hand-wrote the word “oatmeal” a dozen times in a freewrite until I found the word “cookies” and could advance to “chocolate chips.” I hear my own voice saying each word I type. I do not allow the naysayer to have any voice at all.
When we are afraid of doing a bad job, we can hardly get started.
When I was trying and failing to write about my father after his death, I finally set the timer on my watch for thirty minutes, sat before my computer, and typed for all I was worth. Most of what I typed was trash, but about a third of the way into my time, I began to remember and describe the visuals and sounds and smells of my father’s tobacco pipes, his expansive answers to my questions, and the salmon-colored 3×5 cards he kept in his breast pocket and his fountain pen always filled with blue-black ink. The drawings of a medieval boat and of a nineteenth century clipper. The pink shell he stole from a hermit crab in Fortuna Bay. The terrible distortion of his fingers from arthritis.
In a half hour, I did not have a draft, but I had a start.
Karen Karbo says she does not reread her yellow pads, but keeps them just the same. William Stafford did not publish 365 poems a year, but writing that many drafts gave him material for what he did during the remainder of his day: revision.
Everything that is to become must first find a start. I do not believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in fear of bad writing. William Stafford didn’t believe in writer’s block either. He insisted the only way to keep going when the ideas did not seem “good enough” was to “just lower your standards and keep going.”
Richard Hugo warns against writing with a pen, and that we should use lined paper with green lines.
I like green ink and I never use lined pages. I usually write with a fountain pen on the plain square pages of a journal. Most of what I write is drivel. The greatest skill of any good writer is a willingness to write badly.
Jan Priddy’s work has earned fellowships, awards, and publication. Aside from nonfiction, her last project is a novel about recovery from grief, and her current work is science fiction short stories. An MFA graduate from Pacific University, She lives and teaches writing in the NW corner of her home state of Oregon. Her new blog is https://janpriddyoregon.wordpress.com.
January 3, 2012 § 6 Comments
I will finish a draft without revising along the way. ~ Ioanna Opidee
I will make mistakes, lots of them, because each day I will be more fearless. ~ Bridgett
I will clean up my office/writing space, not to the point where it is really neat, just enough to make it easier to find stuff. ~ Ellie O’Leary
I will stop dilly-dallying by playing computer games and WRITE. ~ Ruby Juster
I will write down that story I keep avoiding, the one that scares me. Even if it never makes it out of draft form. Even if no one but me ever reads it. ~ Chelsea Biondolillo
I will make a schedule to write creatively, not just blog posts–minimum of one hour per day. ~ Linda Joy Myers
I will finish the novel I started 2 years ago, spit and polish ’til it shines, and find an agent who will fall in love with it and sell it to a great publisher for a good deal! (and she clicked her red shoes together three times:-) ~ Susan Cushman
I will support other writers by buying their books (through our local, independent bookstore, of course), praising stellar work, and expanding our artist residency program, because helping writers helps all of us (and, dang, don’t I feel good about myself when I do). ~ Jill McCabe Johnson
I will read what I’ve written aloud even if only to myself. ~ megscottharris
I will be brave and submit my work regardless of the rejects or lack thereof because to stop writing is to die. ~sandrabranum
I will contribute to a critique group, not only by sharing my writing, but by having thoughtful opinions of other’s work and by learning more about grammar, style and pov so I can make good suggestions. ~ Lori Thatcher
I will be more mindful and capture ideas in my field book so I won’t forget the spontaneous gems that surface when I’m not at my writing desk. ~ Jean Coco
I will write, as William Stafford puts it, “for the unknown good of my enemies.” ~ Becca J.R. Lachman
I will make a donation to support Brevity. ~ Renee E. D’Aoust
I will stick to personal deadlines I make for projects. ~ Rachelle Stein-Wotten
I will stop beating myself up because I am 60 instead of 30 and came to writing late, and will instead remember that I probably have 30 years of writing in me and time, energy, brain and heart enough to do it every single day. ~ Beth
I will share my work. ~ Courtney Bulsiewicz
I will quit picking the dead skin around my toenails and counting it as writing time. ~ sarahfreligh
I will write more than just carefully crafted shopping lists. To wit: I will grab a pretty pen, pull one of my many dusty, empty spiral notebooks off the shelf and, after having sneezed and quickly reached for a tissue, I will slowly put that pen to paper. ~ Sybilla Suda
I will be more organized about my other responsibilities (teaching, editing, absolutely necessary household stuff, etc.) so that the morning hour or two that I’ve resolved will be kept sacred for writing will not constantly have to be hijacked to put out fires that wouldn’t be burning in the first place if I’d dealt with them the previous day. ~naomijwilliams
I will not stop writing tonight until I know tomorrow morning’s first sentence – even if I change my mind. about it then. ~ Evelyn Sharenov
I will stop waiting for the “right” time to write. ~ Kimberly Lauzon
More and more I’m seeing the ways writing and teaching feed one another rather than feud with one another. ~ Samuel Anthony Autman
I will remember how eerily appropriate this list is. And I will finish my manuscript. ~ Virginia Lloyd
May 13, 2009 § Leave a comment
Rick Robbins writes about the genesis of his Brevity 30 essay, Driving William Stafford:
A friend of mine suggested I write short essays dealing with the drives I make to and from the Minneapolis airport in connection with my hosting the Good Thunder Reading Series. The Stafford piece was the first of these I tried. The fact is, I forget most of the conversations I have with visiting writers on that 80-mile journey, even though I remember much of the talk as animated and interesting.
The Stafford drive was unforgettable, though, for its harrowing aspects and for Stafford’s stubborn restriction of subject matter.
I think he was trying to keep us both alive.