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If You Want to Write

Last Thursday evening, at my Rochester Art Center reading, a woman asked, “When did you start calling yourself an author?”  It’s a good question, one that, I’m sure, every artist asks him- or herself.  Does the label come with the simple act of writing?  Do you accept the label when you’ve become published…or won an award or a grant?

I don’t think there’s any right answer.  I think the first time I felt validated (because so much of writing is a lonely venture, and how do you know you’re good at it?) is when I got accepted into the Loft Mentor Series at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.  Someone had liked what I had written.  Indeed, that year made me see that even my instructors didn’t know all the answers, and oddly enough, that gave me the courage to try newer and bolder things.  Like send my stuff out.

If you want to write, and you’re serious about it, I’m going to provide a list of books about the writing practice that I think are great.  I know too many people who say they want to write, but when push comes to shove, they’d rather talk and dream about it.  After all, it’s much easier.  What I’m about to say isn’t earth-shattering, but it certainly is the truth, and the quicker you realize its truth, the faster you’ll realize your writing dream.  Are you ready?  You must duct-tape yourself in your chair and not budge–AT ALL–until you’ve written a predetermined number of words or pages. If you don’t, you’ll find loads of laundry to do, dishes to be stacked in the dishwasher, and food shopping to be done–really, all of those things must be done before you start writing!  That last bit is a lie, if you hadn’t guessed.

If you aren’t reading books in your genre, why not?  How can you know how to sell your book, if you don’t know what’s already out there?  Certainly, you’ll hear solid “rules” you’re never supposed to break, like no-talking-animals or no-rhyming or whatever some editor insists is true, but the fact of the matter is, if you’ve honed your craft, and your story is good, someone will want it.  It’s just a matter of finding that someone.

To encourage you to think more seriously about your dream, I’m offering up the following books to inspire you.

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
On Writing by Stephen King
The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner
The Right to Write by Julie Cameron
Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose

For those of you who simply want to jot thoughts into a journal, I’d read Ueland’s and Goldberg’s books.

A quote from Ueland’s book: “Everybody is original, if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself.  But it must be from his true self and not from the self he thinks he should be.”

Another: “Tolstoy, one of the most interesting men who ever lived, explains that mystery of ‘interestingness’ and how it passes from writer to reader.  It is an infection.  And it is immediate. The writer has a feeling and utters it from his true self.  The reader reads it and is immediately infected.  He has exactly the same feeling.”

This is what every writer longs for–to make a connection, to make a difference.

So, I ask you, what are you waiting for?

Post image: Writing by rdcock at stock.xchng]

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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