In the twelfth post of Christmas, I truly give to you…
Since one of the primary aims of this blog is to write about writing, I thought I might end this series of posts with some reflections from master writers talking about their craft. I could let these six quotes speak for themselves, but I can’t resist reflecting on them (if only briefly) and how they tie in to what I try to write and what I look to read each day.
“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”
― Maya Angelou
The primary purpose of good literature is not to fix a problem, but to make it more meaningful and beautiful to live in a world filled with problems. This is one reason I don’t read more Charles Dickens and why I haven’t even started Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. I’m thinking more of fiction here, but even good non-fiction should steer clear of one-dimensional moralism if it is to be effective. The song must be sung , not explained or advocated or shouted out. Which leads to my next quote –
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
― Anton Chekhov
Again, while this is true for any writing, I find it especially true for songs and poems. Don’t say you’re depressed because your girlfriend broke up with you and then go on for 500 words telling me the symptoms of your depression. Pay a therapist to do that. Instead, paint a picture of your sadness, like John Prine in the chorus of “The Blue Umbrella” –
rest upon my shoulder
hide the pain
while the rain
makes up my mind
well, my feet are wet
from thinking this thing over
and it’s been so long
since I felt the warm sunshine
just give me one good reason
and I promise I won’t ask you any more
just give me one extra season
so I can figure out the other four.
Here is where I’m going to put in a plug for self-editing. I read a lot of blogs about writing and I notice that many writers mark their progress by their word count. Some even set goals of writing 1,000 or 2,000 words a day (or some such amount). I believe if your goal is good writing, you should lo0k instead at how many words you delete. I knew of a college professor who set page limits to essays. If you exceeded the number, he would rip off the extra pages, throw them away and write across the paper, “It seemed a little incomplete. Try again.” One right word yields far greater power than two (or three, or one hundred) wrong ones.
I like this quote both for its humility and wisdom. The truth is, we never really get it “right” in this writing life. Becoming better writers should always be our goal for some distant “one day.” The direction we should be headed to get there, however, clearly should not involve complex formulas but simple methods of telling it like it is better than we told it the last time, possibly even better than anyone has told it before.
“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”
― Flannery O’Connor
In terms of writing material, we have a lot within us into which we often fail to tap. It’s true if you are writing on any subject, you should do good research and not just sit back in your writing chair (mine is a recliner) and write what is on your mind. Still, if we just pay enough attention to our lives (and the world around us), we will have plenty to start writing every time.
“In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.” ― Oscar Wilde
What may have been witty hyperbole in Wilde’s day has become all too true today. I visit many blogs that have few (if any hits). E-books are being published that sell almost no copies. You can’t even give them away. We could debate what is worthy to be read, but I believe three of my primary obligations as a writer are to read, read, read. Read what others are writing on their blogs. Read new books being published by known and unknown authors. And then, to relax before bed, read (or listen to) the classics (including the Bible) to let my mind be refreshed by the gifted wordsmiths of days gone by.
What are your thoughts on writing? What quote sums up what you believe most true for you as a writer?